Author: Gordon

Long time blogger, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense. Doing my best to find a balance.

Shoes

There is an old joke that goes: “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes. After that who cares? They’re a mile away and you’ve got their shoes.” Badummtshhh!

It is, of course, a riff on the idiom that is typically stated as “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes” the idea being that you shouldn’t judge people until you better understand their life experiences, the challenges they carry every day, and how they view the world. It’s about developing empathy and perspective or, to put it another way, it’s about learning to manage your own emotions.

To wit, the shoes in question don’t really matter (history suggests the idiom originates with native Americans so likely they’d be wearing moccasins or some such), so perhaps these days it’s probably fair to say that with the astonishing designs, prices, and sheer volume of the range of shoes available to those who can afford them, it might be a more apt phrase than ever.

The other day, as I left work, I saw a long queue of people waiting outside a store. It’s not a store I’ve ever stepped foot in, but I’m pretty sure it’s a clothes stor… sorry, “fashion boutique”. It’s 4pm and there is a security guard in attendance at the front door, with a long queue already standing in orderly… er.. fashion.. behind a red velvet rope cordon.

It’s not something you see ever day so with my curiosity piqued I altered my route to wander past.

The queue is largely made up of young faces, teenagers and twenty-somethings, their faces lit by the screens they bow to view. As I get closer I peer inside the shop and can see that the red velvet ropes extend into the store, where there are more people waiting in a queue that snakes round one side of the store and up to the rear where there is a tall clear glass display cabinet, spot light in dazzling white, that contains two pairs of trainers set at jaunty angles as they rotate slowly on a pedestal. Each pair look identical in design and only differ in colour; one is a shade of olive, the other a light salmon pink. There are no other discernible factors or uniqueness and, from a distance, they look like they could be any other pair of trainers, render into these colours. In the queue of people waiting inside, most have their phones raised as they capture their latest Instagram, or Snapchat, or TikTok, or [insert latest fad].

I’ll admit that, as I walked past, I made judgements about those people. I judged them based on their age, I judged them based on their clothes, and yes I judged them because they were queuing to buy a pair of trainers at what I could only presume was an exorbitant price or, as I’m sure the designer would suggest, at a ‘premium’.

Part of me feels ashamed at that. I don’t know any of them, I don’t know if this is a purchase for them, if it’s the only thing they are treating themselves to this year, I don’t know if they don’t have any other hobbies and this is part of their social life. The other part of me wonders what on earth the world has come to when people will queue up to buy a pair of, to my eye, fairly non-descript trainers at what I’m presuming is an inflated price and which, again I’m presuming, have been endorsed by a celebrity whom I’ve never heard of.

Wow, listen to me, the out of touch and angry old man, raging against a world he doesn’t understand.

Sometimes it’s hard to gain perspective, or at least hold it, when you are seeing things that fundamentally just don’t seem right and definitely don’t feel relatable to your own world view. Admittedly this is a terrible example to use but the point stands, I only see the world from my own perspective, through my own experiences. I am applying my own morals to others and that isn’t right or fair.

Learning to put all that aside requires a lot of effort but it is possible. Emotional labour, as Hannah Gadsby recently said, is something that many millions of people do, multiple times, every single day. Those people are mostly women, so I think it’s about time that men took a turn.

It can be easy to start too, honestly, you just need to fight a basic urge. The next time you want to voice an opinion, ask yourself this, did the person I’m talking to ask for my opinion in the first place?

Simple. Right?

And it’s from there you realise that un-requested opinions tend to come from one place, with one point of view in mind, one perspective. Moving that view can be hard but it is possible.

Then, when you have walked a mile in another persons shoes, you’ll understand why their feet hurt, how sore their blisters are, and realise that your legs are aching.

‘How on earth did they manage to walk in these things?’ you’ll wonder.

And then you’ll realise.

These aren’t your shoes, and whilst you now have some aches and pains you’ve never had before, you’ll maybe start to appreciate that the way other people walk, and the shoes they were, aren’t wrong, or bad, just different.

Money

I don’t like talking about money. I find it similar to discussing religion or politics, it’s can be a very divisive topic and you can soon find yourself dragged into the long grass as emotions start to kick in.

I mostly don’t like talking about it because I’ve not been that great with money for a long time and, whilst I’m lucky to earn a steady wage, there is always an element of shame in admitting this. Over the past couple of years, and especially in the last year, I’ve wisened up and gotten a much better handle on both my spending habits (top tip: start here!) and started to reduce my debt, debt I’ve been carrying for a long long time.

There is a level of shame attached to debt. As a grown-up you are supposed to be knowledge about these things yet it’s one of the things they don’t teach at school which still baffles me. Given the first few years of secondary school is really more about HOW to learn, than WHAT you are learning, surely a “Life Studies” course could feature? Cover the basics of how to manage your finances – how to budget, how much to save – and then move on to other things you only learn as an adult; why voting is important, perhaps.

However, once I plunged in to my own finances and started tracking what I was spending it quickly became apparent that my month to month existence was barely sustainable. It’s fine whilst I’m working, but as soon as I stop I’ll be in quite a bit of difficulty. Worrying but as I looked more at how to better manage my money, it became manageable and not quite as scary.

Right now I have a three year plan to get debt free and every chance I get I throw a little more money at the debt, sometimes only an extra £20, knowing it all adds up. Being a geek I, of course, manage all this using a spreadsheet. One tab for the standard outgoings across my own bill payment account and our joint account, and another tab for tracking the debt (which allows me to adjust the amount owed, interest rate, and minimum payments). This second tab is where I’m gaming myself to reduce the time to ZERO DEBT, every penny paid against my debt helps, and in the past six months I’ve managed to squirrel away a little extra and brought the end date in four months. Go me!

It also means I’m always looking to reduce my regular outgoings. This is always a balance as while I could easily live without things like Netflix, there is a quality of life that I want to maintain a semblance of. Ultimately if needed I could quickly cut a few subscriptions, but they are last resort items.

Part of this focus means that, next month we get a new car. It’s bigger than the one we have now, has more bells and whistles, and is costing me about £100 a month less. I’m quite chuffed with this deal, and while part of me knows I could’ve gone smaller and cheaper, and shaved another £100 a month off my outgoings, this car is a way of future proofing the next four years as best I can; no MOT, we have very low mileage so probably only one service, means lower running costs than my current car. Equally, I’m leasing it so if, for whatever reason, I can’t afford to pay then I simply hand it back.

I should also mention Monzo (apologies to those whom I’ve already bored with this topic).

When we decided to move in together we agreed to get a Joint Account into which we would both contribute our share of the household bills. A quick search brought me to Monzo and as I had a vague memory of some friends using it, and saying good things about it, we signed up. From discussion to confirmation took an evening, it was remarkably simple and since then I’ve switched to using Monzo as my own personal account.

Monzo is simply a bank account, but it is app-only (no branches) which means they are focused on making the features available in the app better and better. So, not only do I get instant notifications whenever I spend anything – something that I thought would be annoying has actually made me much more mindful as you are aware every single time you spend and quickly realise how often you buy coffees – but the app includes the idea of Savings Pots where you can store money. In an ‘out of sight out of mind’ way of thinking it offers just enough friction to help you build up little savings to soften the blow of future outlays. Better yet, you can set up scheduled payments into these pots and build them slowly over time. I have a Pot called ‘Gigs’ into which I put £5 a week. Every time I buy a gig ticket, I can simply move money from that Pot back into my account to recoup the cost of the tickets.

And for the geeks amongst us it also has an IFTTT integration, meaning you can automate transfers to Pots based on the day of the week, the weather, if you’ve posted to Twitter (a social media tax kinda idea), and more.

You can easily split bills with other people who use Monzo, a few taps and they can settle their share, ohhh I could go on…

Oddly this micro-focus on money has helped me more than I realised and since moving to Monzo back in February I’ve gotten a handle on my pensions (and moved them to Pensionbee (use that link and we both get a £50 bonus if you sign up!)), I have a separate Marcus savings account, and a separate Plum savings (again, referral fee applies) and investments account as well. Again, having these other accounts means I can’t readily see the money in the bank account I use daily and it’s made such a difference to have those backups; during our American holiday this year we ended up wanting to stay an extra night in New York, without the savings in Marcus account it wouldn’t have been possible but, because it’s out of sight and out of mind, it was easily manageable!

Plum is an interesting one, as once it’s linked to your bank account it will ‘trickle’ savings based on a set of criteria you control. It’s a set and forget kinda thing, and will grab a few pounds here and there and move it out of your account. I’m past £100 since I signed up in June, and I’ve barely noticed it. Similar apps exist, Chip does the same kinda thing, I’d give them a look.

Sure my total savings isn’t all that much, but it’s enough of a buffer and it’s something I didn’t have in place at the start of the year. It all feels very grown up in theory, but I’ve found the apps, like Plum, make it much more understandable and oddly less serious, it’s almost fun to save some pennies each week this way.

If I sound a little zealous about all of this, then I apologise, I’m as wary as the next person of those who try and convert people to things just because they worked for them.

But it’s really hard not to sing the praises of things that made a material difference and which have helped you turn a corner that always seemed out of reach.

I’m a contractor, and the other day I had my usual catchup call with my accountant. Every year we chat through any changes and see if there are other things that I should be looking at. The past couple of years I’ve not really paid all that much attention as I didn’t have these plans in front of me, but chatting last week and I realised that I’m actually more on top of things than I realised and that the next phase of my ‘money life’ can start.

That means ISAs, Life Insurance, Mortgages and more.

I think back to my upbringing and realise that I’m not wholly to blame for my lack of money education, it’s just not something that people talk about openly which makes it all seems like a bit of a dark art. Yet, shedding a little light on these things has reduced my stress about them and makes me far more comfortable, and knowledgeable, about them moving forward.

Even now, writing this post, I feel awkward and vulnerable knowing that others will see this, and that’s part of the struggle, removing the stigma of money and realising it’s ok that I’ve not been great with it in the past, it’s the future that concerns me more now and I feel in a much better place to tackle that with optimism.

It’s taken a fair bit of hard work to get me to this point but where there’s a will there’s a way, ohhh that reminds me, I need a will…

Infrastructure

Invariably I find myself looking for ways to streamline things. I seem to be wired that way, and if I can find a quicker and better way to do something, even if it means bending a rule or two then that’s fine by me. Of course, sometimes better means slower, and that’s fine too, it’s not about speed, it’s about better results. In that age old metric of work, you can only control three things, resource, speed, and quality, so it’s always a balancing act.

Now, I should point out that this was all borne back in my childhood. Our family home had two flights of stairs – the toilet was on the half-landing – and frequently items that needed to be upstairs were left on the bottom step. The maxim was ‘never go upstairs empty handed’. It’s something that has stuck to this day (and once again living in a place with stairs I find myself foisting it on my partner!) and was probably the first little life hack that I used, and that was WAY back before they were even things called life hacks, or hacks for that matter.

For example, for a few years now I have made sure to have a staging area near my front door (not so near that nasty people can sneakily hook car keys or the like through a letter box though!). It means my house keys, my work pass, my headphones, the car keys, all have a place to live so when I am leaving the house I don’t need to go searching for them. I have a similar area in our bedroom on top of my chest of drawers, on it is a small wooden tub into which I empty my pockets at night so that, in the morning, I know where to find my wallet and any spare change I wish to carry. My phone and watch are on chargers nearby so that helps streamline my morning. Little gains that make my life easier

Really it’s all about removing as many decisions as possible. The most famous recent example is Barack Obama who spent his presidency with two choices of colours of suit, black or dark blue. Anything else meant he had to make a choice and, as President, his entire day was built around making decisions so the fewer he had to make the more emotional energy he would have available to make them, and to make better decisions. A reasonably crucial piece of thinking for a President I’d have thought…

Ahhh but let’s not open that (orange tanned) kettle of (rotting and putrid to the core) fish. Obviously I’m not making Presidential decisions (can you even imagine!) but the basic premise stands true for everyone, if you can streamline your day a little it’ll has the potential to go better and leave you with more energy at the end of your day. This is just one example of the little things I’ve done to build my own little infrastructure to help myself.

Sometimes I have taken this too far, but that can be half the fun of trying something new. I didn’t always leave a bag hanging from the handle on the back of my front door to remind me to take it with me, and for the most part it worked except that one time I was tired, and rushing, and forgot that the bag had a bottle of wine in it and… well you know that moment when something happens and time slows, and the horror of what is happening descends, and you can’t do anything about it, and so you watch and hope and cringe and… thankfully the bottle didn’t smash but I took it as a sign to reconsider that idea.

There are many ways you can build your own systems, a quick google for life hacks will give you enough reading material for years, and all I can suggest is to pick the ones that solve something that irks you. That’s where it usually starts for me, a (very) minor annoyance is all it takes.

Recently, one of our dogs had an evening of unrest. Clearly had an upset stomach and so we were in and out with him for most of the night. We don’t have a back garden so every time he wanted out I’d get up, put on my jacket, take off my slippers and wrestle my feet into the shoes I keep by the front door for such an occasion. He was in and out almost every hour of the evening, and by the end I was fed up wrestling with the shoes. The laces were quite loose but couldn’t be undone any more or the shoes would fall off my feet.

Up until then, of course, this hadn’t been an issue. A very very minor moment of inconvenience a couple of times a night, but that night was the proverbial straw and off I headed to find a solution. The internet quickly provided me a solution which, as it happened, I already had at home. A few months previous I had gotten a new pair of running shoes in the vain hope of getting back to being able to jog more than the length of myself without dying. I used to jog frequently and when I did one of the best investments I made were elastic laces. I have wide flat feet so getting the lacing right was always an issue, but elastic laces sorted that out for me.

Cue me heading upstairs to confirm that I had, because I am indecisive, ordered two colours of elastic laces for said running shoes and so I had a spare set; a ready made solution to my ‘dog walking shoes’ issue.

Today all I need to do is slide my feet into the shoes and the elastic laces take care of the rest. Simple. It’s just another little thing but, when you add them up, and consider that over the years I’ve dealt with pretty much all my every day annoyances in this way, it means that the sum is far greater than the parts; the infrastructure that supports how I live my life won’t ever be complete (all part of being happily imperfect), but it works for me

Until it doesn’t. Thankfully I don’t live my life within some rigid, automaton, set of processes. Life, for me, is about happiness, joy, and so the occasional mishap isn’t that big a deal. The infrastructure is not critical. Just imagine if it was though, imagine a creaking infrastructure of roads, or IT systems, and everything that goes into them. How many individuals strands are tied together at crucial points; anyone stuck in a traffic jam knows how little it takes to break these things, one little rupture is all it takes.

Ruptures ruin the flow, and everything breaks down.

End times.

Toast

It’s the simplest of things.

Take a slice of bread, put it in the slot, drop the lever and wait. After a short time the lever POPS! and there you have it, perfectly browned toast, yours to adorn it however you wish, and ohhhh the choices are myriad.

My usual toppings for a breakfast slice or two involves butter and whatever sweet condiment I have to hand, most often it’s honey, occasionally it’s jam and if the mood has taken me as I wander the supermarket isles, there may even be the option of a lemon curd or bramble jelly. But it all starts with butter, and sometimes that is all that is needed.

The bread is, of course, important, and again the mood and circumstance dictate. A few years ago, with a hangover looming over my day, I ventured to the shop across the road, purchased a loaf of fresh sliced white bread and retreated home, there to consume it, slice by delicious buttered slice, through the rest of the day.

These days I tend to treat myself a little better, and love nothing better than thick cut seeded loaf of some sort. We also get responsibly sourced heather honey from a Scottish producer which, along with a smear of butter, brings a little bit of luxury to my weekend mornings.

Eating out is a different matter and I recently bemoaned the distinct lack of choice when it comes to some of the places we visit, with any form of brunch or breakfast invariably served on toasted sour-dough which, whilst not a bad choice most days, is becoming so ubiquitous it’s getting a little boring. I like a nice sour-dough loaf as much as the next person, but c’mon folks, let’s mix it up a bit!

A few years ago I went through a spell of making my own bread which is as simple as it is therapeutic, even if living alone meant I’d end up consuming the entire thing myself, with the first half usually gone during the ‘fresh from the oven’ phase… oops.

Be it plain, white, brown, or any of the myriad of regional variations, whether it originated in the British Isles or hails from over the sea (I do love a brioche, merci la France!) the simple act of toasting bread and adding butter remains a simple and underestimated pleasure.

So, next time you pop a couple of slices in the toaster, take time to marvel at what is going on. The chemistry involved in the baking of the bread, with that wonderful soft flesh inside that is rendered new into a warm, crispy, deliciousness, by what very well may be the invention of the century, which is only further heightened simply by applying butter.

Toast, it really is the breakfast of champions.


And for those of you of a certain age, have an earworm…

Morning all. I’d like to tell you about when I was a young boy. Must have
been three or four months old at the time. I didn’t really know what I
wanted, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anybody, ’cause all
I could do was gurgle.
So, I sat there in me highchair, thinking one day, looking at me tray and
thinking what I’d give for a meal on there.
So, I started looking round to see what I could have.
I was rubbing me eggy soldier in me head, trying to think, and I looked in
the corner and there’s a little breadbin with its mouth open, just staring
at me, like.
Toast by Streetband (and yes, that’s Paul Young)

Sport

I blame my Dad.

He was a P.E. teacher so I guess it’s understandable, and natural, that his job seeped into his home life and gave me a love of sport. Correction, a love of watching sport.

My earliest memories are rugby, likely the Five Nations, with cricket and Formula 1 a close second (the latter two are, to be fair, more attributable to my mother), and of course the grandeur of the Olympics and all those weird and wonderful sports you never got in P.E. class! Watching world class athletes perform at their peak of their powers is never anything but thrilling, and thanks to Dad, always informative.

It’s an approach I’ve retained, don’t just watch but learn, as I’ve taken to watching new sports. Figuring out why that person can run faster than that one, or how that team out manoeuvred the other to win the game is all part of my enjoyment and appreciation of pretty much all sports. Aside from horse racing and darts, I’ll watch pretty much anything and quite happily get engrossed and while away several hours watching Kabbadi or Ten Pin Bowling.

I’ve lucked out on a couple of occasions too; when Channel Four started showing some NFL highlights, their first show included a 15 minute segment on the basics of the how the game is played, what a down is, how play progresses, and what the key positions are. Since then I’ve watched NFL on and off, and you now see even better analysis on the BBC with two ex-players showing how a play came about, the different runs/routes taken by the offence and the tactics of the defense to try and stop them.

It’s always this side of sport that I’m drawn to, the tactics and machinations, and where better than F1 to see that mix of ultra-high tech, teamwork, and natural talent all meshed together. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of races (both in Singapore) and it’s safe to say that the cameras really don’t capture the speed these cars travel at, nor the skill it must take to flick a car through a chicane at upwards of 100mph, breathtaking.

Again, the BBC offered a good TV package when they had the rights, including a wonderful spot that highlighted some of the engineering feats, and how a tiny little carbon fibre fin could influence how the air flows over one side of the car and alter it’s handling and speed dramatically. Geek heaven.

I’ve played a few sports as well of course, with the usual spins of 5-a-side football, badminton, and basketball from time to time, and it’s the latter that remains one of my favourites. As I got towards the end of high school I shot up and so as one of the taller boys, basketball became MY sport, the one I best at and was most confident with. It wasn’t the most popular sport, football was by a country mile (we didn’t play much rugby at my school but I think I would’ve enjoyed that if we had), but it was the sport at which I excelled.

I never took it particularly far, something I mildly regret, but I did play, and win, in our school house competition. In later years I’d revisit it with work colleagues and over time rediscovered some of the skills that had lain dormant for a couple of decades, the joy of threading a bounce pass between unsuspecting opponents, or setting a simple yet effective pick and roll, soon had me eagerly looking forward to our weekly games. A couple of other guys were very good players and it helped raise my game as well.

Unfortunately we don’t get much coverage in the UK, unless you have Sky Sports which I don’t, but I still follow along with my chosen team, the gold and purple of the LA Lakers. This is the first NBA team I saw footage of, on a fuzzy old video a cousin had, and I was in jaw-dropping awe watching a man called Magic run, pass, and play at a level that seemed much higher than those around him, he’d no-look pass to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who took a sideways step as he turned his body, flicking the ball up and out in what became his trademark shot. Swish. Another skyhook lands.

I didn’t realise then that I was watching two players, and a time, that would become Hall of Fame appointees and who still feature in debates of ‘who was the best player ever’. I followed the Lakers as best I could, through the doldrums and the emergence of Kobe and Shaq, another ‘best ever’ duo, and after the utter debacle of the last few years I now watch on in hope as a player who has genuine aspiration to be the best ever lifts the Lakers back into playoff contention.

A few years ago I was asked what my bucket list items were, and to this day I struggle to narrow things down. In fact there is still only one item on that list, so I guess I’d really better start figuring out a way to make it happen.

Lakers vs Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Unrequited

I wrote on love the other day and I guess I’ve been lucky that my life has been filled with people who love me as much as I love them.

Of course it wasn’t always so and there were some very angsty teenage years where I confused the emotions when I had a crush on someone with feelings of love, really I was feeling lust but that word wasn’t quite in my vocabulary back then.

One woman springs to mind.

We worked together for a few years and immediately got on well, there was definitely a connection of some sort, a feeling of ease around each other and a little flirting too. Outside of work we hung out from time to time, got closer, and it was then I realised she had, and lived with, a partner. It was confusing and I can remember a few drunken nights of hope that never led anywhere. She was a few years older than me and I wonder now if it was just a little distraction for her, and I say that with no malice, we are all humans and being paid attention by anyone is always flattering, we all have egos.

As I grew older those same crushes would come and go although I now recognised them for what they were, fleeting excitements not to be dwelled on and, perhaps, some flirting; a topic I wrote about back in the early days of this blog when I was still married (I am not any more) and which I now re-read with no small amount of wonder at the person I was back then, let’s just say it doesn’t paint me in the greatest light but that’s who I was back then, 19 years ago.

Just as I have evolved, so too life has continued and I’ve had my own experiences of being rebuffed and regardless how deep and wide the emotions at the time – be it a crush, the early stirrings of love, or the end of a relationship – it’s never easy for either party. All the more when the realisation is that your feelings are unrequited and thoughts turn inward. Am I not good enough? Not funny enough? Not right in some way?

But no, partnerships are not built on such thoughts and if the other person has any thought of them then as, once again, life moves forward, so should we. On to better things, we hope, and to a place where those emotions so freely given out are returned manyfold.

And for those still searching? There are new avenues to be explored even here, with the growing awareness and acceptance of open relationships, polyamory, and all other forms of relationship structures that allow for differing depths and commitments and, while they should not be entered into lightly, they do have advantages for many both in practical and emotional terms.

It’s never easy, making yourself vulnerable, opening up to another in the hope that their feelings (amongst so many other things) match yours, but if you are lucky, very very lucky, you may find someone who feels the same way.

Unrequited.

Fight

I can remember the jeering, the cajoling and the pushing, a cacophony of noise and blurs as we got pushed together in the long grass. I can’t see the faces but I know I recognised most of them, I was first to get to the agreed place and then all of a sudden more faces and my opponent is before me and it’s all happening so quickly and I don’t really know what to do. I can remember the stomach clenching fear and nerves that made my skin jitter, and fighting the desire to vomit. Senses heightened, adrenalin coursing, fight or flight instincts pinging loudly around my brain. I did not want to be there but knew I couldn’t be anywhere else.

The challenge had been laid down that morning. I had reacted to yet another incident and snapped. The deed was done, the time and place named. My first fight.

I was all of 8 or 9 years old, standing in the patch of long grass just outside the school gates. Looking back now I wonder if it was parents that rushed over to split it up as I don’t remember much about how it ended.

All I can remember is standing there waiting, then he was there, and then it started and the sudden pain as I doubled up and struggled to breathe, one punch to the stomach was all it took. I fell to the ground to protect myself, a few kicks maybe landed whilst I was there but then somehow I was getting up and running away.

I’ve not been in a fight since.

I sometimes wonder how I would react now. Back then, as a weedy little kid, I wasn’t confident at all, being more of a book worm than an athlete. I still am, but I’m also a large man, just over 6′ tall, heavy built, and part of me hopes that’s enough to put off any random altercations because, frankly, if someone did throw a punch at me, I have no idea what I’d do.

In my mind I’d react with speed and precision, I’d block or duck out of the way, throw a counter-punch whilst simultaneously moving my weight to make sure my next movement would put my opponent on the ground with a simple trip. I’ve watched UFC, I know the theory of how this would work, yet I get the feeling that the reality would be very different.

In reality I’m unlikely to have the cat like reflexes that I imagine, so I’ll get hit, my body will freeze in shock and denial as the adrenalin floods my system at which point I’ll either turn and run or try and tackle the person to the ground so they can’t punch me again. Hopefully there my, er, superior weight will be in my favour.

But really, I just hope I never find out.

Love

It is rightly hard to put into words.

It can be raw, deep, and fleeting, all at the same time.

It can bring comfort, joy, security, and a sense of quiet peace to your life.

It doesn’t matter where it comes from, and I’ve found it best not to question it too strongly.

And no, I can’t explain it to you, not properly.

And as cliched as it is, once you’ve found it you’ll know and you’ll realise how much it means to you.

Once you have it, you’ll find the world changing around you in the best of ways.

There are many forms of love, mostly when we think of love we think of partners and the emotional connection they share, or perhaps the love of a caring family is the first thought in your mind, or yet still the trusted love of kinship with your closest friends.

A few years ago I made a point of telling all the people in my life that I truly care about, that I love them. It sounds easy but it really isn’t, which is awful to realise, awful to hit that moment and find yourself a little bit tongue tied and unsure if you should say it and what will the other person think and so you stutter and fumble your way throughout.

But like most things, with practice it gets a lot easier.

And that’s the thing, the more you say it, the easier it gets, and the more you put it out there, the more you get back. It’s a wonderful circle, and given how much hatred we see on TV these days, all over the news, in the media, on social media, I think we all need to put out MORE love to try and get things back in balance.

And you, dear reader, in my own way I love you too, I love you for taking the time to visit this little corner of the internet and reading these words.

Game

Our two dogs have a number of chew toys. Occasionally we will buy them something nicer, an antler perhaps, to chew on. Their breed does a lot of chewing and they have powerful jaws so antlers are the choice du jour.

There are two dogs, so we buy two small antler (parts, it’s not a full on antler getting thrown about the living room!), so they each have one. Of course that’s not how it works.

How it works is that, for some reason or another, one of the antlers is deemed the favourite and then they spend hour after hour trying to trick each other into giving it up.

Dave usually gets first shot at it as he is the one who chews the most, which means Sasha then spends her time picking up all the other toys and nudging Dave to get him to play. As soon as Dave drops the antler to start playing with Sasha, she quickly shakes him off, grabs the antler and runs off.

Every time.

And then, despite the fact that Dave is a far bit bigger and stronger than Sasha and could, quite easily if he wanted, get it back from her, he doesn’t. He just stands about a metre away from her and whines. And whines, and whines, and slowly works up to a full bark.

Which, of course means, that we need to intervene, retrieve said antler from Sasha, distract her by getting her up on to the sofa for cuddles, so Dave can be left in peace to chew his favourite antler.

Repeat. At least three or four times a night.

It’s all part of how they play and interact, and this little game, once you learn it, has tactics and strategies and different outcomes depending on what pieces are in play. It can be quite complex for something that is driven by base instinct.

I’m not that into games myself, certainly nothing in depth. I have a Playstation 4 but tend to only play sports games; football (soccer), racing, beat ’em ups, nothing that requires a deep level of knowledge to pick up and start playing as my motivation for play games is never to learn something new, it’s to distract myself and let my brain relax a bit.

I think that’s why I’ve never gotten into games like Call of Duty, and it’s certainly why the more involved board games leave me a bit bored. All those rules!

I don’t think it’s just instant gratification that I seek either, I have a few games on my phone and they mostly get played during my commute on the way home, a way to decompress with some mindless nonsense.

Which I guess is all part of gaming oneself, literally using games to reset my mood and my emotions, to give myself a time to relax a little. It usually works, although sometimes a little too well when a ‘quick game’ turns into a couple of hours but then isn’t that the point, a game should be something that’s fun, something that you enjoy, and if time isn’t flying when you are playing your favourite game then maybe it’s time to find another?

Party

Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999, sang Prince.

Which would mean ditching our smartphones, not playing Crazy in Love, or Uptown Funk, and I’m not even sure I want to contemplate the fashion choices we’d be subjecting ourself to once more.

I bought the single, 1999, when it came out. It wasn’t my first foray into the music of Prince but it was the one that got me hooked and delving back through his previous albums. Years later, when it was 1999, with the millenium looming it re-entered the radio playlists and made me think back to my childhood parties.

There are photos of my first few birthday parties, typically just me and a couple of friends (Alan and Iain) and a homemade cake. A few years on as we hit the final years of primary school, birthday parties were marked by what we called ‘record nights’. A gathering of boys and girls, and you brought your LPs and singles. Food and juice, and the first venturing into games like spin the bottle.

We were so young, and it wasn’t until one specific party where, for whatever reason, that everyone played along. Previously, spin the bottle had led to being shoved into a cupboard with a girl you knew but didn’t like, or knew and liked a lot but you knew she was ‘getting off with’ someone else, so nothing much happened except some embarrassed giggles. God help you if you got shoved in there with your childhood crush which rendered you a blushing mute.

That party though, the one that changed things, meant that my first kiss with a girl happened in the dark. To my shame, my memory won’t let me remember who it was, but like everyone else, as we exited the cupboard to giggling exclamations from our friends, we broke off into our own little boy/girl splits and confirmed that yes, we snogged but no, no it wasn’t a frenchie.

And we all did it, random couple after random couple spun that bottle and entered the cupboard, did the deed, then walked out again and, after that, it all started to change. Soon there was talk of boyfriends and girlfriends, snogging became a past time, that open mouthing of each other for tens of minutes on end until you got the much heralded badge of pride, lock jaw, because you’d been going at it for so long.

Parties like that dwindled away for me through secondary school as my group of friends chopped and changed. There were Christmas dances at school, and other gatherings, but it wasn’t until I went to college that the notion of parties rolled around again.

These were entirely different beasts, for a start alcohol made an appearance, the music was louder and typically it was merely the precursor to heading out at midnight to the Tunnel or Sub Club for further debauchery. But that’s enough about that, my parents read this ya know!

And now as a mature adult (stop laughing at the back) parties are now things held to mark an occasion, not just because it’s the weekend. Engagement parties, Christmas parties and the like. Except, for the most part, we stopped calling them parties.

For example, every December 27th, me and my closest friends gather and spend time together, eating, drinking, laughing, playing games. It’s a party in all aspects except name. And it is the best of times, and certainly my favourite day of the festive season.

The years churn on and my niece has kickstarted the cycle of parties once more. These days they take place in play centres, safe spaces where the kids can run and jump and dance and eat cake. Which really isn’t all that different to how things used to be. And that’s beauty of a party, it’s not time based, and whilst the activities and musical backdrop may change, and lord knows the fashions have, it’s still a time to be happy in the company of friends and family.

So, here’s to the party, may it always evolve but never change.

After all there’s only one approach that has always, and will always apply, right?

Party on, dude!