Category: Life

For the stuff about my life

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.

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!

Renovation

The title of my blog has been Happily Imperfect for some time now. I’ve written about this before but since then, things have changed.

The name came about because I am, on the whole, happy with who I am, where I am in my life, and where my life is headed. If anything, the past year or so has made me even happier but ‘Happier Imperfect’ doesn’t really scan… and there’s the rub, since I last wrote about this, almost five years ago, I’ve found myself at place that could simply be described as ‘Happy’ but, again, it’s not the best title for a blog…

Yes, I am happy. Happy with my life. Finally. It feels good to have gotten here, after all it’s taken me a long time, but I guess that’s what life is all about, getting through things, learning, growing, and accepting who I am. And I have.

But there is still a part of me that, whilst I can acknowledge how happy I am these days, is always wondering about a tweak here and there. If anything my advancing years are pushing me towards this as well, my health will become increasingly important as I head towards 50 years old (wow that’s so weird to write yet it’s not that far away really) and so I still find myself looking to make small changes and tweaks. I’m also happy that that is also part of who I am.

I’ve always thought this way, I accept that life is what it is, that I’m not perfect and that no-one is, but I don’t ever want to stop trying to make things better for myself as I know that makes things better for my loved ones. A wonderfully virtuous circle, no?

I am happy where I am today, I am at my happiest, my most content, my most comfortable, and it feels like the jigsaw pieces of my life have all neatly slotted into place again. I feel whole and complete.

But life continues to move forward and give us challenges. Yesterday my doctor confirmed that the pain I’ve been experiencing in my lower stomach was a mild Inguinal Hernia, it’s not serious and will heal itself with a little gentle help from me, but it reminds me that my body needs to be taken better care of or such things will become all the more frequent as I head into the next, exciting, decade of my life.

I thought that turning 40 would be the kick in the pants I needed to get my health sorted out and, thinking back, I probably thought the same when I turned 30. Neither happened, and even more recent efforts and dedications at the gym were never fully committed. Looking at this body though, and it’s growing list of aches and pains and I know it’s time to renovate as best I can.

I’m not quite sure what that means just yet, as ever I know the basics but finding the constant commitment is always a balance and it’s here I’m focusing. How can I maintain the effort needed for, say, six months (and why am I starting now, with the decadent indulgence of Christmas ahead of me!)? I don’t know yet but that’s half the fun. Figuring it out.

And it’s much much easier when you are already happy.

So this is not going to be a renovation project of a sad dilapidated body, rather it’s just a few tweaks on what I hope are some good solid foundations.

Fingers crossed.

Recycling

Every little helps.

It’s a reasonable maxim to live your life by; save a little money when you can, eat a little less of the bad things and exercise a little more than you do to stay fit and healthy, make a little gesture to brighten the day of a stranger, and so on and so on. A little at a time. It all helps.

It’s also a phrase to hold on to in the growing clamour around the state of the world we live in, the damage we all do to the environment every day, not to mention the lies and misinformation that are spread, for some reason, by people who seem to be happy to let the world burn.

As has been said elsewhere, why are we even arguing about this, the WORST that can happen if we all do something is that the world is a better place for all of us?

At home we recycle as much as we possibly can and when we are shopping and living life we try and avoid single use plastics or anything that isn’t easily recycled. It’s not easy, compromises need to be made, but these too are little things that aren’t, and shouldn’t, be a blocker for what is a wider goal. We get our milk and fresh orange delivered from a local farm to us in glass bottles. We buy glass jars and bottles of condiments where we can, we use our own bags when we go shopping, picking loose fruit and veg over pre-packed bags.

Every morning I use my reusable mug for a takeaway coffee, for my lunches I tend to only eat in places that use paper bags, or have a recycling scheme in place, and the more I look the more I see opportunities to buy smarter which means I’m recycling less and less.

It can be done, it takes effort.

It’s good to see the big supermarket chains slowly getting on board with this too, offering better alternatives, even in little ways. Replacing the free plastic bags available when you are picking your vegetables with paper based alternatives, is one recent example I’ve seen.

Every little helps.

And yes, I believe all of this, the small changes made in stores, and the effort we go to to recycle at home all make a difference. I know a lot of people don’t bother because “what’s the point?” and cite things like how it’s industry and government that needs to lead the way, and I agree they should be. But they aren’t, not yet at least.

So, until then, if we all do something, anything, to help, no matter how small then surely that has to be a good thing. It’s better than nothing.

Start small, read up on what you can and cannot put in your local recycle bins, or be more mindful when you shop, that’s all it will take. Like me you’ll find that one small thing will lead to others.

And, after all, every little helps, right?

Beverage

I’m on my way to work. I step off the bus and head for the same location as I have these past four years. As I enter, if she’s working, Alice says hi and takes my precious travel mug from me, and starts to prepare my … wait for it, large skinny, sugar-free vanilla, latte.

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted, more that I like routine, and as this coffee house is on my way to the office, it’s a convenient place to stop.

Isn’t that what an addict would say?

I’ve tried going cold turkey, both by choice and by happen-stance, neither times were particularly fun and both resulted in a splitting headache by the early afternoon.

At a previous job I drove to work, parked in the car park and walked into the office, usually one of the first people there, my first port of call was the filter coffee machine. Again, it was routine; take off my coat and hanging it up, retrieve laptop from bag and start it up, open drawer and remove mug and head for the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen I’d set up the coffee machine and wait for it to filter through to the pot. Just me, in silence, almost like a meditation, listening to the quiet gurgling of the machine, and the first tell-tale drip drip drips.

Rumour has it that, as people started to appear in the office, they’d check to see if I’d had my coffee before approaching me. I am very OK with this. It’s not like I was grumpy until I’d had a coffee, more that I like to have my moment with my favourite beverage.

Growing up, coffee was a constant, the only hot drink I recall my Dad ever drinking. My Mum was all tea, and the occasional hot chocolate which, given my Father’s sweet tooth I have to presume he also indulged in, is still something I have now and then.

I take my coffee with a dash of milk and a sweetener, the same as my Dad. For a while I switched to black coffee for no other reason than securing a source of milk in an office environment was always a bit tricky. These days, with someone else making my first coffee of my working day for me, it’s a little more exotic.

Is it an addiction? Perhaps. I know my limits though, and tend not to drink coffee after about 5pm, lest I be awake at 2am and ready to take on the day!! I also try not to have more than four or five cups throughout the day, most days I have three which I think is a reasonable balance., right?

Science says otherwise but that was yesterday, and no doubt tomorrow we will be told that no caffeine should be consumed. Wait a week and we will be told that, actually, a few cups a day is perfectly fine but no more than eight.

I’ve tried tea a couple of times, builder’s tea I guess you’d call it. The first time I was on holiday with a friend and his parents in a holiday resort in Anglesey. Few memories remain of that week; cassettes of Soul II Soul and Bomb The Bass on rotation on my walkman, snogging a goth girl who smelled like peaches, and drinking a cup of tea as I was too polite/shy to say no. It was an odd week.

More recently I tried it again, having spent many years treating the drinking of hot water and leaves with disdain. I retain that view still, tea and I do not get along.

Aside from coffee, I drink about three to four litres of water a day as well – the joys of being on a diuretic – and occasionally will have a can of something fizzy. We get fresh orange juice delivered from a local farm, as well as milk, each week, and that’s about it. I’m partial to the odd glass of wine with a nice meal, and will happily spend an evening in the company of friends drinking beer, or perhaps a gin (and after that, who knows, cocktails?!), but my beverage of choice is, and always has been, coffee.

I wish it was better for me, I wish I could drink it after 5pm – and no, decaff doesn’t work, my brain seems to work on the fact I’ve had coffee, not the amount of caffeine I’ve ingested – but part of me doesn’t care about any of that.

The only thing better than the smell of freshly ground coffee, is the smell of freshly made coffee. Whilst I’ll occasionally indulge in a seasonal special, as offered by the large coffee chains around the world, I’m just as happy to make a mug of fresh coffee at home, sit on the sofa with a dog at my side and take 10 minutes out of my day to just enjoy.

Addiction? Routine? Whatever.

All I know right now, is that it’s time for another coffee.

Smells

“In the greenhouse, my grandfather and me. Smells of summer.” – Martin Stephenson.

Is it the gentle aroma you get after a warm summer shower on dry soil? (Also known as Petrichor).

Is it the subtle waft of a perfume from a passerby that transports you to forgotten time and place?

Is it the smell of fried onions, or grilled bacon, that dances on your tongue?

My sense of smell isn’t the greatest, I don’t think, I mean I’ve never had it tested so it might well be as good or as bad as anyone else, but as I don’t tend to remember smells, and don’t tend to use them the way I use imagery and words as a way to remember things, it’s fair to say that my olfactory system is one of the lesser appreciated.

Or perhaps it’s because I take it for granted.

But then isn’t that the same for all of the wondrous things our bodies can do, things we barely notice from day to day, until they start to fail (I write this with a suspected hernia, so perhaps my awareness of failing bodies is a little heightened).

Yet it is my sense of smell that I pay the least attention to, my eyesight and hearing seem so much more important in the grand scheme of things. With those two, you have a sense of their slow erosion, the quiet failure of hearing, the blurred vision that older age brings. But those shortcomings are only made real by the knowledge of how you were before.

Is there a way to train your sense of smell? Do sommeliers and aromatherapists go on training courses for this? Are the senses even something you can train, or is an inherent part of their existence down to the fact that they are natural abilities, the effectiveness of which ranges from person to person?

And what would happen if you lost your sense of smell? I know it is linked to how we taste so that would be the most obvious sensation, one which is most frequently given life when you have a bad cold, but what else would we lose?

I think the associated memories would be the biggest loss, the knowledge that a certain flower, or the sea air in a particular part of the world, would no longer trigger emotions and bring those we miss back to us for a fleeting moment, I think that would be the biggest loss of all. Standing on the shore of the Mediterranean after my mother-in-law passed, walking the corridor of the nursing home when my Gran left us.

Of course it is fitting that our senses carry such power, and the more you pay attention to this the more you see it throughout every day. Tomorrow, try and notice how many times people comment on the way something smells, it’ll surprise you.

And the more I think on this, the more I realise how many memories are only heightened by our sense of smell, how the best moments in life are made all the more vivid in recollection; the warming comfort of the first time I held my niece as a baby, the sanctuary and care of the nape of the neck of the one I love. These things are made all the more important and vital the more senses we can attach to them, and it only takes the tiniest scent of them to bring them flooding back into view once more.

Such a powerful sense. I hope it never leaves me.

Childhood

A blue desk, with a flip up lid, painted red in a later life, sitting there looking out through warbled glass.

The smell of a warm wet dog from the back of the car.

Sitting at the top of the stairs whilst my parents and friends talked and laughed late into the night.

My blanket, my panda, my blue horse.

The taste of dog biscuits.

Action Man adventures in the back garden.

The chaos of the primary school playground.

Camping trips and caravans.

The box of old lego at my Gran and Grandpas house.

The click clack of knitting needles, and the rustle of a newspaper.

Walking the nearby woods, chasing the dog.

White bread, green apple slices, butter and sugar; a sandwich for when you weren’t well.

My sister arriving home, swaddled in white cotton.

Cycling home, up the driveway, round the side of the garage, one thump of a front wheel to knock the back gate open.

My old model railroad, roads and grass painted on plywood.

The cupboard under the stairs.

Setting up Hot Wheels running track down both flights of stairs from the top of the house to the bottom.

Visits from family and friends, best behaviours and a smell of polish.

Summer barbeques, juicy slices of melon and marshmallows toasted on sticks.

Winter nights, a crackling fire, roasted chestnuts.

These are the things I chose to remember about my childhood.

All of this and so much more.

All of this to a soundtrack of happiness and laughter.

All of this with a heart full of love.

Book

A couple of years ago I sat down at my desk. It was the first day of a dark November and my intention was to write 50,000 words of a new novel, my first. Having written posts for this blog for several years, and increasingly looked to improve the quality of the writing it was an interesting project. Write a book, they said.

I’ve been reading books for as long as I can remember. My father is an avid reader, and weekly trips to the local library are a formative part of my youth. The children’s section was downstairs and it was there I’d head whilst my father went off to roam the aisles. It was liberating to be fully in charge of those choices and whilst I was first drawn to Asterisk and Lucky Hand Luke comic books, I soon started to find longer stories more palatable.

Trillions by Nicholas Fisk was a formative book in my young years, a sci-fi novel for young adults is probably the classification and whilst I can remember little about the story and how it unfolded, it was the first time I read a book and felt that spark of imagination. It stuck with me to this day, the feeling of wonder that something as simple as a few words on a page can transport you to an entirely other place.

My love for sci-fi continued, no doubt feed by my father, with Arthur C. Clarke and as I got a little older I discovered friends at school who also read books. I was such an avid reader (the acorn doesn’t fall far and all that) that I’d rush through school work and ask to go and read, and what school teacher of any repute would say no to that. The Isle of Sula beckoned next, a trilogy I think, set in the north of Scotland, as did the Three Investigators (aka Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Detectives, my first exposure to the great director), Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.

Moving to high school brought new friends and new reading habits and a certain man called Stephen King started to feature more and more heavily. To this day I’ve probably read more books by him than anyone else, although thinking on it it may be a tie between him and Ian Rankin. King has a habit of writing books that a very easy to immerse yourself in and it wasn’t unheard of for me to sit down on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read one of his novels from start to finish before bedtime, even if bedtime in question was beyond midnight.

It’s a trait I’ve retained, when I’m reading a really good book I tend to focus on that over other things like sleeping and eating…

I have no idea how many books I’ve read, I only started tracking some of them a few years ago when I joined a, now sadly defunct, book club. I’d gotten away from the habit of reading, and the book club brought that back alongwith several wonderful books that dragged me away from my everyday life and into their vivid poetry, slapping my imagination back into gear and consuming me as every good book should. It also taught me an important lesson on the art of reading books; you do not need to finish a bad book.

Book reading should never be a chore, yet the act of writing a book certainly seems like one. Those 50,000 words I wrote a few years ago remain in draft, reworked a few times since admittedly, but are no closer to forming a book than they were back then. I even read a couple of books on how to write a novel, the best of which remains On Writing by the aforementioned Stephen King.

One piece of advice he offers is this: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”

This latter part, ‘then it goes out’ seems to be where I’m stumbling, knowing that the words I’ve cobbled together onto the pages would be out in the wider world and read by at least 4 or 5 people (who are all family and friends of course). It’s not so much a cause of writers block as writers fear, but that is a topic for another day.

Instead I’ll end and offer some book recommendations. The type of book and writing style may vary but each of these brought me no small measure of joy over the years.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  • Number9Dream, David Mitchell
  • Vox, Christina Dalcher
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
  • If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead, Andrew Nicoll
  • And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
  • Smilla’s Sense Of Snow, Peter, Hoeg
  • Ghostwritten, David Mitchell
  • Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

And for more, check my Good Reads account.

Television

I grew up in a house that always had the TV on. My Mum knitted, professionally, and the TV was the back drop to that. As she was working, she preferred things that she maybe didn’t have to pay close attention to, so Saturday afternoon movies became a staple, as did cricket and Formula One, anything that didn’t need to be watched 100% of the time.

Of course I wasn’t knitting so I did sit (I don’t have the patience for such things) and watch these things, the movies, the sport, and have fond memories of sitting on the old round brown rug, resplendent with white Claddagh, as the screen flickered through lazy Saturday after lazy Saturday.

As I grew up, so TV took a lesser part of my life as I found more interesting ways to spend my time.

I’ve never been one for following the crowd and TV is a great example of this. I genuinely don’t now how some people can have watched every TV show they have, hour after hour after episode after episode. I’m as fond of a Netflix binge as anyone but they are few and far between, and so when people at work start talking about TV shows, invariably I haven’t seen it.

The quality of most regular TV is what puts me off, not the fact it’s popular (I’m not THAT contrary) and that’s before you get to all the political and ‘news’ shows that only add further weight to a vague conspiracy theory about how TV is really just the opiate of the masses or, as The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy put it, the drug of the nation.

T.V. is
The stomping ground for political candidates
Where bears in the woods
Are chased by Grecian Formula’d
Bald eagles
T.V. is mechanized politic’s
Remote control over the masses
Co-sponsored by environmentally safe gases
Watch for the PBS special
It’s the perpetuation of the two party system
Where image takes precedence over wisdom
Where sound bite politics are served to
The fastfood culture
Where straight teeth in your mouth
Are more important than the words
That come out of it
Race baiting is the way to get selected
Willie Horton or
Will he not get elected on…
Television, the drug of the Nation

It’s not that I don’t watch television – I’ve just finished watching the entire How I Met Your Mother from start to finish for the first time – more that these days, I struggle to pick something from the myriad of choices we have available to us now.

And it’s only getting worse. Netflix set the standards but pretty soon after that Amazon pitched in (I’m currently watching The Boys there), and HBO, Disney, and BritBox all want a piece of the pie too.

It’s a vast change since my childhood days of three channels, and a big tube box with buttons and you had to get up out of your seat if you wanted to change the channel.

And what’s all that choice doing to my television experience? Diminishing it.

For a few years I hardly watched any regular TV. So much so that I considered giving up the TV License we pay in the UK as I was only watching streamed movies. I was fed up channel surfing and watching one or two episodes of a show that just didn’t have the production values I like and more often than not I ended up re-watching one particular TV show which, for me, is up there as the best that has ever been made (the first 4 seasons at least).

I can’t remember when I first stumbled across The West Wing, it certainly wasn’t my parents influence but I think my friend Susan was the first to clue me in. She had a bad illness for several months which kept her housebound so, to have something to talk about, we’d watch TV shows separately and discuss them. She foisted a boxset on me once and, since then, I’ve watched it start to finish about six times.

For me it’s the writing, the words and the way they flow from character to character that dragged me in, not to mention the stellar cast and high production values. I’ve not long finished listening to the podcast that, belatedly, accompanied the series – The West Wing Weekly – which featured one of the actors who joined the show in the latter years. He, Joshua Malina, had worked on other TV shows before, but hearing him talk about the way the show was made and how it was more like a theatre/movie production than the usual weekly TV show approach (quality over quantity) really solidified, for me, the reason I adore this show so much.

If you haven’t watched it, consider this a recommendation. Take the first few episodes at one go, it settles in by about episode three and just gets better and better from there. You will laugh, you will cry (the death of one character especially, every single time!) and alas, in our current political climate, you too will wish for a President Bartlett to appear. It’s a soothing balm of a show, that places good over bad, right over wrong, with all the human frailties that go along with that.

As the autumn nights head for winter, the comfort of a sofa and a blanket and familiar TV show is beckoning again. Maybe it’s time for viewing number seven…

Technology

10 PRINT "Hello World!"

I can’t remember if it was a birthday present or a present from Santa, or if it was from an Aunt or Uncle, but I can still remember the first time I used it and the mild awe I experienced when I got it working.

The present was an electronics starter kit; a little circuit board with LEDs, switches, a speaker and other bits and bobs on it, and lots of little wires and spring connectors so you could wire up circuits and I can still remember the fun it was to create something like that, something magic. Push a switch here, and an LED lights up over there. It came with a set of instructions for basic circuits, and from that you could configure your own. I’m pretty sure I tried to wire up my own burglar alarm for my bedroom door one time only to realise that to set it up I had to be inside the room… bit of a limitation that.

The kit itself probably wasn’t the catalyst for my interest in technology but it certainly poured fuel on the fire and from a young age, encouraged by a father who had an entire garage full of things to experiment with and who remains to this day a huge gadget fan, my curious mind was quickly drawn to a world of electronics and switches, the wonder of electricity and the burgeoning world of home electronics and computers.

All of this ultimately led me through high school and a Higher Physics qualification, then on to a (short lived) college course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering where, in a nice little twist, I even made an actual PCB (printed circuit board) although this one didn’t have little spring connectors. I also managed, as part of my coursework, to blow a chip entirely in half, with the top layer flying off in a puff of smoke. Ahhh those heady days.

It wasn’t for me though.

Alongside that early interest in electronics was a growing interest in computers, fuelled entirely by my Dad who used to bring home these wonderous machines from the school he taught in. An Acorn BBC Series Microcomputer was my first exposure to such a thing, before the BBC Master, and a few years later an early Apple Mac II which still holds fond memories. It was the beginning of the personal computer age and soon all my friends had Sinclair ZX Spectrums, Commodore C64s, and the Amstrad CPC with its built in tape deck.

Things were pretty BASIC back then (pun clearly intended) yet it was still quite a revelation when, after spending a couple of hours manually typing lines of code, you ran your own program and could see it on the screen.

I missed out on Computer Software courses at school by a year, or my life would no doubt have been very different, but that early love of technology has been a constant throughout my life.

If you had told a 10 year old me that one day I’d stand in my living room, and say a few words out loud to have some lights come on, and some music starting to play, I’d have presumed you’d stolen the idea from a Dan Dare comic.

Of course all that technology comes with a price, one we weren’t really thinking about in the early days. Both the cost of hardware, with the incessant push to upgrade devices regularly for the latest greatest features, and as the internet zips forward and gives us ever greater sight of the murkier parts of life are brought into view and that too comes at a cost.

With millions of inter-connected devices, the idea that shining a light on all the bad things in the hope they’ll go away hasn’t played out. Instead it’s simply helped those with similar world views come together in increasingly monstrous ways. But, of course, that isn’t the fault of technology. There have always been people with dark views of the world, there has always been hatred, it’s just that much easier for it to coalesce online than ever before.

The flip side, obviously, is that those people who believe in love, equality, and want to make the world a better place for everyone, can also come together online, thanks to the wonderful technology we have available to us. It’s no surprise that there is a rise on demonstrations around the world, with technology driving the organisation and planning.

It’s a long way since my first experiences with technology, learning how to write lines of basic code, and computers aside, the leaps and bounds that all forms of technology have taken in the past three decades is astounding, and looking forward one wonders just how far we will be able to take things.

Until then…

GOTO 10