Category: Personal Musings

Posts about me

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.

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.

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.

Wedding party dancing

Family

A couple of months ago, in the midst of my sisters wedding, I looked around the room and took in all the faces there. I saw many familiar faces, some of whom had been at my own wedding, many years ago, and I saw too the gaps of those no longer with us.

It’s been years since she passed, but the face I missed the most that day was my Gran. Ohh how she’d have loved it.

I spent a lot of time with my Gran when I was a child. My Mother’s mother, she looked after me a lot in the pre-sister years, weekends spent in in the big house in Rutherglen, my Uncle’s old warped snooker table in the basement, the living room with a sideboard so large it came in through the window (one floor up), and the front room best know for the tub of sweets that were always the first port of call when we visited.

I didn’t really know my Grandpa, successive strokes robbed him of speech and movement, but he was there with a smile and a laugh. I wish I’d known him better but my visits there were mostly about me and Gran, walking to the local shopping centre, getting a cone from the ice cream parlour, and always getting a toy from the toy shop. She’d stop and chat to people she knew, always a friendly smile.

My Gran loved clothes and was such a frequent visitor to the make-up counters, at one of the more upper-market shops in the Glasgow’s city centre, Frasers, that in her later years when she couldn’t manage to visit in person, they started sending out free samples to her. A wedding would’ve meant a whole new outfit!

I can imagine her at my sisters wedding though, watching and smiling, and sitting with her son and daughter. What a wonderful picture that would have been.

Of course, life isn’t like that and all families go through the same cycles of loss. As it was, many of the faces at my sisters weddings the Aunts and Uncles, the family friends, all brought warmth and happiness to the day. And these are the family moments to remember fondly. The gatherings that happen now and then, that mark the passage of time, the weddings, the christenings, and even the funerals.

It’s at these times that I look at my own extended family; my partner, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my niece, and my closest friends who are, and have been, like brothers to me these past 30 years, my ex-wife, and all the connections that they bring.

They say that friends are the family they choose, and maybe I just got lucky because my family was already pretty damn good to begin with. As I danced with cousins and Aunties, and chatted to Uncles and family friends, I saw the same for my sister as her friends once again whisked her onto the dance floor.

I guess I’d reword that old phrase then, friends aren’t the family you chose, it’s the people you love that are the family you have.

Pay no attention

I can still remember the nerves as I sat there, front row, at the school assembly. The main school hall was in the middle of the building, with classrooms off to each side and for assembly it was laid out with row upon row of plastic seats, ready for every pupil in the school to sit and listen to the headmistress. On this day, rather than sitting with the rest of my class, I was sitting up front next to a teacher as I was about to be invited to get up in front of the entire school.

Off to one side at the front of the hall, from where the headmistress was addressing us, was a large black grand piano. Far larger than the upright that took pride of place in my parents front room, or that of my piano teacher, the only two pianos I had played. That grand piano was the largest piano I’d ever seen and as I stared, marvelling at the lustre of that deep shiny black casing and the curves of its acoustic chamber, it seemed to grow larger and larger with every passing second.

Then my name was mentioned and, taking that as my cue, I got up and walked over and sat on the large leather stool, checked my music was at the right page and looked down to be faced with a gargantuan keyboard that was fully 10 feet from end to end (maybe it was 20 feet, or 30? it’s a hazy memory and remember, the piano was still growing with every passing second), each key was the same size as my entire hand, the pedals were large enough for me to stand on. I can’t recall which year I was in, only that it was Primary school, and there I was, a tiny, petrified boy sat in front of a piano that was rapidly taking on gargantuan proportions and proving more and more daunting by the second.

It took all my strength and willpower to push the keys down for the opening notes – I can’t recall the piece I played but I’m betting something by Mozart – and I know I stumbled over a couple of notes midway through but, by and large I have no further memories of the performance. I don’t know if I re-took my seat to deafening applause or stony silence, I don’t know if the headmistress made any further comments, I can’t recall if it was at the start or the end of the day.

What I can still remember, with alarming clarity for someone who has atrocious powers of recall, is how nervous I was before, during, and after the performance. As I sat there waiting to be called up, I was hoping my sweaty palms wouldn’t be an issue, not to mention wondering if people would just start laughing at me and, as the headmistress called my name, I can still feel the lurching drop that occurred in the pit of my stomach as I got up and walked to the piano, knowing all eyes were on me, watching me and nothing else.

These days I can look back on such an event with a smile, safe in the knowledge that I got through it and it was probably a good thing that I was able to do it at all. Such things are character building for a young boy, right? Ahhh the joys of hindsight. However back then the entire experience, the build-up to it, the performance, and the teasing in the playground after the fact, all added up to what was simply a horrifying experience for what I was back then; A young, not very confident, boy who didn’t even really enjoy playing the piano at all. I still don’t know how the entire thing came about, but I’d guess living in the same street as the headmistress had a bearing…

I’m not sure where my dislike of being the centre of attention came from. Perhaps because I was always happiest and most content as a child if I was on my own, lost in my own worlds of imagination. Perhaps that was something I used to block out other things going on around me, and perhaps that was due to my sister not arriving until I was 8 years old with my Mother being in and out of hospital in the intervening years. I honestly don’t remember and I know my childhood was a happy one, and full of love, but most of my most vivid memories only feature me on my own.

So from being the type of child who used to sit at his desk and stare out the window, watching the cars drive round the roundabout so often I could tell from the brake lights which car was which – Ford Sierra, Fiat Panda, Cortina, Astra – to being plonked in front of the entire school to perform was a massive leap. I didn’t enjoy the clamouring Aunts who wanted to hear my play the piano at home, let alone sit in front of all of my classmates and friends.

Horrifying.

Part of that, I realise now, blends into my mental health issues and the inability to take credit for things I have achieved. I don’t dwell on my achievements, I don’t put weight behind them and congratulate myself. At least I never used to, that has started to change but that’s very much a work in progress. With that in mind then, it’s easier to see why being the centre of attention has never sat comfortably, doubly so when it is in any way congratulatory which, given how aggressively competitive I was growing up became a very sharp double-edged sword.

I was in the Boys Brigade for most of my childhood and won every trophy going. In the Juniors I won Best Boy, and repeated it when I moved up to the Company (go 1st Dumbarton!). My squad won Best Squad and Best Squad Games trophies that year too, a clean sweep. Which was great, I lead a group and we were successful and then I had to accept actual trophies in front of a people at an awards ceremony and UGH.

Regardless of where it’s come from I have never liked being the centre of attention, and as a 40-something year old man, I still don’t. So as something which I utterly abhor as a personal experience, I struggle to find the appeal in it for others. Why do you get up on a stage and sing? Why do you write your heart out and then read those self same words out loud as others gawp on (as I did recently).

It’s also why, whilst I have many friends who adore the current… trend? … of drag artists and drag shows, it’s that very extrovert and OTT behaviour that pushes me away from it. You may see makeup that is on fleek (?) and outfits that dazzle and shine, and acres of positive energy and empowerment and acceptance, but beyond that all I see is a clamouring for attention that borders on the desperate? LOOK AT ME, it screams, LOOK AT ME!

Which, to someone who internally is typically screaming STOP LOOKING AT ME, is so far from my comfort zone that I can’t even begin to understand it. Logically I know that there is a lot more behind the power that drag artists get from their performances and that it’s all driven by many other factors and can be a hugely empowering influence for the individuals who take part, and it’s just as likely that they are deliberately pushing things so so far with their extroverted behaviour that it stems from the same place as my deep hatred of being the centre of attention.

Yet it remains so so far from my comfort zone that I can’t empathise with it to the point that I really don’t enjoy watching it and, in my own way of dealing with my emotions that may, occasionally, be externally expressed with a small (teeny tiny) level of sarcasm to those who do enjoy such things, well to those people I apologise. It really REALLY isn’t you and most definitely is me.

For the record I’m not anti-drag artist, it’s just not for me. I’m glad it brings happiness and joy to so many people.

This topic has been on my mind once more as we roll towards the end of October and my annual ‘I hate Halloween and everything that goes with it’ mindset. Friends of mine host a party every year, and every year I publicly moan about ‘having to get dressed up’ and invariably, because I don’t want to let people down and have an innate desire for approval, I end up scrabbling around for a costume at the last minute.

My favourite to date was a printed t-shirt that read “Error 404: Costume Not Found”.

Once again this years invite arrived (via Facebook obv) and I immediately, internally, baulked at the idea of it. I don’t mean I stopped and thought about it and then reacted, I mean it’s like a reflex, the minute I read what it was that knot in my stomach appeared. Now I should stress that my reaction is not about attending the party per se, nor is it about the people who may be attending (well not ALL of them), and it’s not like I haven’t attended Halloween parties held by these gracious hosts before, and hey I’ve even dressed up a few times, but no, it’s the thought of having to get dressed up and walking in and having people turn and look at me.

For a while I used to think it was the dressing up thing specifically. And it’s definitely a large part of it because I tend to struggle to feel comfortable in my own clothes, let alone having to find a costume that fits and doesn’t make me feel more ridiculous that I do on any other given day (I think we can see where this is headed).

Admittedly Halloween is a bit of a double whammy because I also don’t understand why Halloween is so popular, and why so many people revel in the scary, horror side of it so much. Let’s dress up as a zombie, ohhhhh, let’s dress up as a witch, aaahhhhh. But then I don’t enjoy horror movies so the entire genre that is ‘horror/Halloween’ is complete lost on me and I’m really REALLY fine with that. But, I digress.

I know a LOT of people who enjoy dressing up, not just at Halloween, and that makes me wonder what they get from it? Is it actually driven from the same place? A dislike of being ‘seen’? A way to not be the you that you aren’t all that fond of, by pretending to be another? I’m veering heavily into stereotypes here but looking at the continued expanse of the cosplay world, is that a prime area for extroverted introverts? And does that make me an introverted extrovert? (hint: yes I am, mostly).

I have, on more than one occasion, dressed up in fancy dress for a party. But the more I consider it, and the more I look at my natural reaction to being requested to dress up, the more I struggle to put the wishes of the requestee (who are requesting this of everyone, and aren’t singling me out, I know) over my own needs. Given my constant, innate desire for approval, the need to be liked by as many people as possible, I can confirm that, as the kids say, the struggle is real. I want to dress up in the best costume and have everyone at the party turn and stare in awe at how amazing I look and to praise me for it, except I want them to do all that without looking at me. Is that too much to ask?

A lot of this relates to my own body issues. I watched enough Gok Wan back in the day to know that my own internal image likely doesn’t match the reality but I spend every single day aware of my size. I pull my coat closed when it falls open, I adjust my position when I sit at my desk. Given I try and NOT draw attention to myself because I don’t like what I see, is it any surprise that I don’t want other people looking at me? Why would I willingly do something that is entirely designed to make me the centre of peoples attention, that is wholly predicated to make people look at me?

All of this angst lies slap bang in the middle of my inner quandaries, driven by emotions writ when I was a child, which have me simultaneously loathing any form of attention whilst at the same time craving approval and realising that to get the validation I internally crave I have to put myself in the spotlight now and then.

And yes, I’m aware that it isn’t healthy to seek validation from others, I’m much much better at loving myself these days than I have been, the base instinct remains.

So sometimes I go to parties and dress up. And more often than not I end up leaving them early because that simple act is the culmination of several days build up and by the time it arrives, and I’ve spent a couple of hours there, I’m done.

I’m still not fully sure where this is all seated though, and year on year my mood around Halloween seems to sway from indifference, to a mild loathing. It’s the same feelings I get when any mention of “ice-breaker activities” or other such enforced fun are mentioned, the same internal stomach churn, and the same sarcastic comments are issued forth.

I don’t like my reaction to those, nor to Halloween in general. I don’t like my perception of how others see me when I act this way, and I know many people think I’m just permanently grumpy. I’m really not. I’m not a curmudgeon or a grump, I’m typically pretty happy, I like enjoying life, and I do love hanging out with friends and family and having a laugh.

I recently bought myself a piano, a small keyboard, as the mood occasionally takes me to sit down and play again. I was surprised about the memories it brought back and how quickly my fingers remembered what to do, which note was where, and I still sit down every now and then.

Sometimes I’ll see a piano in a hotel bar, or as is more likely in a public space somewhere, and I wonder what it would be like to sit down at it and play something. I know I have the ability, if perhaps not the memory, nor the dedication to practising that it would take to do so, but I don’t. I know it might happen in the future, nothing is fixed, but for now I’m happy knowing that I could if I wanted to, and that I’m choosing not to, even if I’m not happy about the reasons why.

So no, I won’t get dressed up and go to the party like I have done in previous years, and even though I’m not happy about the reasons why, I’m always happy to get the invite and knowing that I could.

Gordon and Becca looking ahead

9 years later

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… – Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

It was around about now, some nine years ago, that the house my ex-wife and I had owned in Hamilton sold and I found myself on the hunt for a place to live. We’d agreed to separate earlier in the year, and had started making our own plans for our lives apart and this was the last vestige of our shared life. A tale of two lives indeed.

I had already decided to move to Glasgow specifically to the West End as I’d always enjoyed it’s mix of old and new; the grand spacious tenements, the constant buzz as new influxes of students descend on the area each year, the mix of working class, artists, and the aspiring upper-middle classes (so bourgeois darling!).

The timing was less than ideal and I quickly found myself upping my budget so I wasn’t in direct competition with the aforementioned, newly arriving, students. And so after some fruitless weeks visiting tiny box after tiny box, I finally found a nice flat with big rooms in a good location. It was an open viewing and there were several other people there also making appreciative noises, and so the next morning I resorted to ringing the letting agency 15mins before their office opened. Lo and behold someone picked up and the flat was mine!

It was a perfect base from which to begin a new chapter in my life, with my home city of Glasgow within walking distance. I moved in a couple of weeks later and not long after that I joined the local Yelp community, which remains one of my better decisions as I’ve made friends there that remain to this day. I was already using Yelp as a way to find places to visit, places to eat, and on my first ‘community event’ (a pakora evening in Mother India) I happened across a work colleague, what a coincidence, from there … well, I’ve mentioned this before (in what appears to be staggering foresight but, well, I didn’t know then what I know now).

The next years staggered forward with nary a plan in sight. My career was going well enough, a new role gained, trips to our offices in Belfast, Boston and Sunnyvale (California), and a memorable customer visit to the headquarters of Sears – a vast building about the size of two large UK shopping centres, which had two full size coffee shops as well as a massive 2000 seater canteen that had more food on display in one place than I’ve seen or since, it took us 20 minutes to walk from the entrance to the meeting room – and it felt I was on the right path, finally.

My career had always been a thing of change. I studied Electrical Engineering but left college early and worked in the local McDonalds before my Mum found a job advert for me which took me to a small cottage and started my first career in technical authoring (writing software manuals). A year later I was made redundant and ended up moving to the south of England with a job secured in Aylesbury, a year and a half after that another redundancy, a brief six months working in Reading and a return to Scotland (Hamilton) before I ended up at a software company that changed names five times, and owners twice, before they too made me redundant. A frantic few weeks (with a holiday in Singapore in the middle) got me to where I am today, contracting in a bank doing ‘IT stuff’.

Lesson learned, careers can be planned and targeted but will always be at the mercy of those capricious cherubs of fate. In a way I was lucky to go through two redundancies so early in my working life, as it made me realise that whilst you can have hope and dreams, and work hard to better yourself, you are never fully in control. I have chosen to leave two companies of the six I’ve worked for so far, and as I get older, so the work and the people become more and more important to me. Who knows where my next career move will be, but as a lot has already happened in the intervening nine years I can only presume the same for the next nine?

On a more personal note you could also say that matters over the heart and the intricacies of relationships are as much influenced by chance as they are fate. Not long separated, with a new flat, so came a new relationship and with it other new experiences, a chance to explore more of myself once more and a door that opened to yet another, simultaneous, relationship. It was all very new, and was as rewarding and fun as it sounds. To have two partners, who are fully aware and comfortable living in such a relationship structure was not something we happened upon, it took work and effort and emotional growth and many more things but I’ve written about being poly before.

So if you fast forward through the last nine years and I’ve moved home twice, been through two polyamorous relationships, attended Glastonbury a few times, been made redundant for a third time and subsequently switched careers, made many many new friends, and spent the entire time exploring and learning as much about Glasgow as I could. I also spent a fair amount of time discovering and understanding more of myself.

There have been family members that have passed, others got married, my gorgeous little niece arrived, both my parents health took a hit, and through it all I’ve been lucky to have had the love and support of my best friends and my wonderful family who have never batted an eyelid no matter what news I turned up with. I am very lucky.

It’s been a wonderful nine years for the most part. I find myself looking forward to what the next nine will bring and feel much better equipped as to whatever life will throw my way, although I must admit it does help that I have much more clarity as to what my future holds…

About a year ago life, as it is prone to do, threw me another curve-ball and it’s safe to say that I find myself at a very different place both figuratively and literally, one I would not have predicted as the freshly divorced singleton I was all those years ago. We moved in together early this year, her two wee staffies are now our two wee staffies, and I feel happier and more content with each passing day. We frequently comment to each other that whilst this has all happened quickly, it has never felt rushed and has always felt natural and right and easy and stress-free. We make each other laugh and smile. She is my best friend.

If you’d told the newly divorced version of me that this is where I would be today I would not have believed you. There are plans for the future and I am excited for them to arrive and every morning I wake up and smile.

Over the past nine years (and many before that) I made many mistakes and with hindsight of course there are things I’d do differently, but we can’t go back, we can only look forward and the path ahead of me looks so much richer these days. I will make mistakes in the years to come as well, but I take solace that no matter what happens I have people in my life who love me as much as I love them and who I can rely on (and not JUST because I know too much about them…).

If the last nine years have taught me anything I’d be a fool to share it with you as my life, my decisions, and the path I took to get to where I am today will not be the same as yours.

Yet if I were to pass on any learning let it be this; Say Yes more than No, surround yourself with positivity and love, accept that you have and will make mistakes, and focus on living life not owning things. Laugh more than you cry.

Who knows maybe the next nine years, with all the wonderful adventures it will bring, will see me finally embrace that advice for myself. Regardless I will face it all with a smile on my face and a heart full of love, and no small amount of dog hairs on my clothes.

Autumn arrives

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” — Henry David Thoreau

After a wonderful weekend in Gothenburg – which I highly recommend you visit if you are searching for a long weekend of relaxed wanderings – we returned to a Glasgow where it’s safe to say that the nights are fair drawing in 1 and with the ever darkening evenings marking the change of the season I find myself looking ahead at the coming months; trees are turning and with them the joy of autumn flourishes.

I’ve always preferred Autumn to Winter as the slow folding of time takes us through profound change, skies darken earlier, plants return to the earth, the light changes day by day. Equally Spring is preferable to Summer as it brings with it new energies fuelled by the world around us re-emerging, days brightening, and the promise of new peeks over the horizon.

I’ve always been drawn to change, always find the turn of a season motivates me anew. I am not one for resolutions made at the chime of the New Year for during those long days of Winter there can be little to distinguish a dark and cold early December morning from a mid-January evening, neither light nor temperature vary. Give me substantive change, something I can see and sense, and my brain suddenly sparks into life with a rejuvenated sense of purpose.

A few weeks ago I sensed this change was coming, Autumn was upon us and new motivations were found and plans made to get back to the gym, and to finally book that wonderful weekend away. And how wonderful it was; a beautiful city, small enough to walk around, big enough to hold more secrets to return to in the future, filled with friendly smiling faces, I have rarely felt so relaxed.

Once home, I felt re-invigorated and with the hint of Autumn on the nostrils I look to other pursuits and ponder the novel that has been creeping back into my mind these past few weeks, plot points are crystallising, character emotions emerging, and even now as I write this post it appears that my previous lost prose is returning.

It were ever thus.

Be it Spring or Autumn I always find myself itching to dive into something new, a yearning to immerse myself completely. In Spring it’s easy to find renewed vigour for something new with the premise of taking it forward into the rest of the year. Autumn offers a different motivation in the desire to blanket myself from the increasingly grey world as a means of escape.

With a successful, if already belatedly painful, gym session behind me (and another looming this very evening!), my mind is turning once more, cogs whirring like an antique time piece, and the novel I’ve long hoped to finish is being reshaped in the hope that I can capture its new shape in the coming months.

I am mindful to guard against my own habits, where an interest is piqued and followed to a place beyond immersion to an entirely unhealthy location that occupies my mind over all else. Yet that was then and this is now, and with my life and self irrevocably changed for the better in the past couple of years, I welcome this new Autumn heartily, safe in the knowledge that my occupations will be split appropriately across more important matters, with the heart overruling the head more often than not.

And, if nothing else, I have two dogs to walk.


Notes of foot
  1. A Scottish colloquialism to represent the darker evenings that impact our northerly latitude as we head towards Winter.


Apple iPhone 11

In conflict with new

I recycle, I have for many years. My partner is a lot better read on it though and I’ve learned a lot from her since we moved in together; I’m much more conscious of single use plastics et al these days and have started to question my entire habits of consumption. Quite simply, I buy too much stuff.

I’ve known this for a while and even though I’ve been a lot better at being mindful of new purchases it’s still a habit that I relax on too often. I have a drawer full of t-shirts – I could wear one a day for a month I reckon – yet have added a couple of new ones recently with the premise that ‘it’s ok because I’ll pass some of the older ones on to charity stores’. Which is good but missing the point entirely. I don’t NEED new t-shirts.

Just as I don’t NEED a new iPhone, my current one is just fine for what I use it for, yet…

I’m in the Apple upgrade programme and have the option to upgrade to the latest shiny new iPhone each year and so far I’ve done just that and justified it by, somewhat rightly, positioning an iPhone as more than just a smartphone as it’s the only camera I now have and with most year on year upgrades including improvements in photography (this year is no exception) it is entirely possible to reason my way into yet another upgrade.

Editors note: He has already upgraded, this post is really just a way of working through his angst.

I don’t NEED a new iPhone, I know this, I can rationalise that side of the argument very easily. The upgrade programme is essentially a finance option so if I choose NOT to upgrade and finishing the payments the handset is mine to keep for as long as I want.

I could also argue that in a couple of years the battery life will start to diminish on an exponential scale and will render my smartphone annoyingly dependent on having a 3rd party battery charger to hand as the battery gets worse and worse. I reckon 4 years is the longest it would remain ‘workable’ and that’s only because I work in an office and can keep my phone charging all day if I want, however the weekends would be fraught.

Perhaps THIS iPhone is the last one I get for a few years. Battery technology has come a long way in the last couple of years, with this model (iPhone 11 Pro) touted as having 4 hrs more than it’s predecessor and I’m presuming that means the slow decay of capacity is also slower (I’m not expert though, I should’ve probably have checked this out..). Improvements to the camera also are notable, so notable they spent most of the keynote presentation talking about them, and if the low light/dark mode is anything near as good as is suggested then it’ll be worth it for that alone.

So yes, I have ordered the upgrade and promised myself to double down elsewhere. The iPhone is a luxury item for sure but it is the one thing I use day in day out – there is a whole other post about those habits – and in a way it feels a little more acceptable to treat this differently to other purchases, a little different on the WANT vs NEED scale, somehow.

And perhaps this really will be the last time I do this.

Looking at the news I have to wonder if my mind might be focused on far more important things over the next year; Brexit and the current farce that is British Politics, the utter inhumanity and horror that Trump is unfolding around him on a global scale, and no doubt further global climate change implications will come to the fore. These will all come to bear on day to day decisions more and more and, I fear, such frivolities as ‘ohhh a new shiny iPhone’ will start to become more and more a thing of the past, a dinosaur relic, a tribute to my destructive consumption tendencies and some might say bring a level of karma to my hideous over-consumption of the past.

It’s a sad thought for sad and scary times but hey, at least I have a shiny new iPhone.

Oh.

Blogger homepage

Why am I STILL blogging?

Is it just me or are the number of blogs on the rise again?

Despite all the other methods of social media available, blogging remains a unique option, better suited to those wishing to publish thoughts, ideas, commentary and the like, than the more recent incumbents of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Honourable mention for Tumblr but it just never had the richness to provide great content, and I think remains a little too focused on its own model of interactions rather than the content it holds.

As a long-term blogger (aka old git) it’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of popularity that blogging goes through. I think this is the third or maybe fourth wave of ‘the rise of blogging’ that I can recall and each time things change a little bit further without ever straying too far from the basic roots of blogging.

Yup, when I started round ‘ere it were all but fields…

Blogging is about mostly about words and links (I’m putting photo only blogs aside for now). Some blogs are heavier on one than the other, the best have a mix of both, and they all tend to be well written with a distinct voice. Admittedly, those are pretty wide parameters, which have been continually tweaked and stretched over the past 20 years and my blog is a reasonable example of this evolution. It weren’t always such and if you head back through my archives you’ll see I started writing short pieces every few days, then through the next couple of years (as soon as Blogger came along) I began publishing new posts multiple times a day, often linking to something interesting I’d just found and over time, as I wrote more often I found more and more of my ‘voice’, despite not ever having much of an audience (or much in the way of quality).

Today a successful blog is just one part of an online presence, sitting alongside Instagram perfect photos, sound-bite worthy Tweets, a stream of Snapchats, and lots of promotion; Read my new post! Yeah it’s not actually new but I need to keep my presence refreshed so I’m posting it again for the umpteenth time this week but hey, my stats say these are the best times for interaction/hits so I gotta do it to stay relevant!!

I see talk of things like discovering your brand, of finding the perfect grid, of honing your voice. It were ever thus of course, just that the terminology has changed a little as blogging is, for many, a business not a hobby and understandably that leads to a focus on views, hits, and stats, and as they start to grow their brand, so the focus turns to monetization (if that’s even a word) and the key to social media hierarchy, influence.

I know several bloggers who have successful blogs, that are well written, personable, gorgeously designed and well presented, and they deserve all their success for their hard work. Yes, it is hard work to maintain a blog over a long period of time, to find your voice, hone your craft and produce content regularly. Any old fool can churn out a 500 word diatribe and throw it into a templated design, but to build an engaged audience takes a level of honesty and integrity that not everyone can maintain.

To which I should admit that I look on at the latest crop of successful bloggers who appear (although we know how looks can be deceiving) to be having that ‘better life’ and I wonder. When I started my blog, if I’d really gone for it with a passion, could I have been as successful? (hint: no, or I’d have done it already).

This isn’t a grumpy old man rant though, I’m not bitter about those people as they all work hard to get to where they are, it just isn’t for me.

Which begs the question, as blogging has changed so much, why the hell am I still doing it? If it ain’t for the money and the rewards then why keep doing this, I mean, it’s been twenty years!

Let’s cut to the chase. The reason I still write and publish posts on this blog is down to pure and utter vanity. I can parcel it up any way you like, put a big bow on it and say that this is a way to process a whirl of random thoughts (which it is), or that I continue to post in the (vain!) hope that someone else might find something I’ve written useful, or perhaps I would even go so far as to suggest that my voice is actually important, my opinions should be heard, and I’m actually utterly dismayed that my blog is not more widely read but hey, I’m not that (white) guy and, frankly, I’m amazed that anyone person reads this at all. Aside from my parents of course, they remain my most loyal of readers but that’s largely because I’m a terrible son who doesn’t see his family often enough!

Essentially though, and I think whilst the means may differ, all bloggers have the same end goal in mind when they hit Publish. They want to be validated, they want to be heard and noticed. Even if it’s only a little as sometimes that’s all we need.

When I started out, part of my reason for blogging was purely the fact that I, little ole me, could write some nonsense and with a few HTML tags, and a quick FTP upload, it would appear on the internet right there next to Yahoo News! You’d search AltaVista and find my website, or perhaps you’d spot it in the list of 30 or so in the UK / Weblogs category in the Yahoo directory. Regardless, there was a strange ego boost to seeing something I’d created ‘up there’ with all the others, all of which I presumed knew exactly what they were doing and why whereas I was making it all up as I went along. Ain’t hindsight wonderful.

However, it soon became a vanity project and with valid reason for a while when I separated out my professional thoughts to a separate blog. That got me a couple of speaking slots at some industry conferences and made me very aware of being fairly high profile, admittedly if only in a small professional circle. Yet it was never something I took over into my personal blog, other than one presentation I did on blogging many moons ago, it remained a hobby.

All of that ‘fame’ happened just before the latest wave of social media, Instagram wasn’t long launched, Snapchat was a few years away, and Twitter was king with all the cool kids. I was still blogging, but it was starting to feel very much like shouting into the void.

And to be honest, it still does. But then, isn’t that the point of a vanity project? You shout and shout simply because you want to, simply because you can.

I’ve been lucky. I am still in contact, even if it’s just social media contact, with some of the bloggers that started around the same time as me, some of which are still blogging as well (we are a stubborn bunch!) but the longer this blog goes on, the more I wonder why I keep doing it, it’s a habit, sure, but is it a bad one?

When the 20th anniversary of this blog rolled around I contemplated closing it down and as each post becomes more and more of a challenge that may still happen and I can’t imagine many people will mind. What’s more important is whether I’ll mind or not, and therein lies the root of this to-blog-or-not-to-blog angst.

For a long time I wrote fairly intimately about various aspects of my life and whilst I stopped shy of discussing my sex life, other aspects of my personality, my sexuality, my political leanings, and my feminism have all been fair game. Yet over the past couple of years I’ve gotten away from that. It probably, unconsciously, started when I went back for some counselling a few years ago and while that prompted some deeper introspective posts, I’ve not really been quite as forthcoming as I have been in the past.

Perhaps it’s the growing sense of my place in the world, something I’ve touched on many times, and my growing belief that the only thing I should really be doing with my voice is to amplify the voices of others (and ohhh how I wish more men would take this stance) although I recognise the irony of that statement amongst this gushingly ponderous post. As time goes by I struggle with what to write, and yet, and yet… I still find something, so the hobby continues, even as it veers away from certain areas of my life it embraces new ones.

Even now, as I write this post, I’m trying to find an answer and half wondering if I’ll even post this – because frankly this is getting embarrassingly self-serving – yet it strikes me that I enjoy this habit, this hobby of mine that doesn’t really offer any value to anyone bar me, as it was and as it should be.

So yeah, I’ve wondered if I’m done with blogging, but it appears that I’m not. Not yet.


Apparently I’m not alone.

Fail stamp

Happily failing

It’s late afternoon as I move through the room and throw back the cover. The dust shimmers in the sunlight streaming through the window. I cough, run a hand over the stool before I sit down. Once seated I reach forward and ruffle through a stack sheet music and make my choice. I glance down and place my hands on the keyboard. After a few moments I realise my fingers are finding the keys on their own, the melody is mostly maintained, and the familiar strains of Bach fill my headphones.

I do not play piano often enough.

It’s one of many things that seem to slip from my thoughts as day follows day follows day.

I don’t play piano often enough, I don’t meditate often enough, nor have I found the time to write, or the inclination to get back to the gym.

My days slip from work, to home, to work again. My leisure time has moved to shared time on the sofa, walking the dogs, and the minutae of everyday life. I put more value on these things than my hobbies (rightly so?).

I am failing at many things.

Yet I am happier than ever.

It’s taken me some time to realise, time to reassess the balance that my life has found and how the subtle shifting of weight that some things previously held (or perhaps I gave them) has brought me to where I am now. I’ve let go of some things, and embraced others.

It’s a shift in my thought processes prompted by many little reminders here and there, themselves made possible by a shift in my approach to social media (goodbye negative voices, hello positivity) that’s made me realise that none of these things are failures.

Every time I sit down at the piano is a success. It doesn’t matter if it’s only once a month.

Every time I take time to stop and meditate for 10 minutes is a success. Every time I think about one of the two novels I have half-written is a success. And once I am past my (current) batch of physio I will get back to the gym a couple of times a week; success.

Recently there was an article doing the rounds about how people need to stop treating hobbies as things to get good at, instead we should enjoy them for what they are, a way to relax with no expectation. As I continue to step away from my old habits and learn to stop setting expectations, stop making plans, so I find myself failing more and more often. And it’s wonderful.