Working at home I’ve been enjoying listening to the radio. For a while it was BBC Radio 2 – the joys of Popmaster far too often interrupted by meetings! – but I’m back to 6Music which always feels like ‘my’ radio station.
I have a work laptop that I can’t install things on so, rather than have to keep a browser tab open all day, I looked for other solutions to have a wee radio player running on my Macbook.
There are a lot of apps but given I only listen to one of two stations, many of them felt a bit overkill. Especially as few would startup on my station of choice.
The BBC Sounds app is good, but still took a bit of clicking around to get going, and then I stumbled across a little menubar app that seemed to do what I wanted.
So off I went, installed XCode, grabbed the code and created two instances, one for BBC Radio 2, one for 6 Music.
Grab em, drop in your Applications folder and run! (CMD+Q to quit, there isn’t a menu in the app for that).
I’ve always admired poets, admired with envy as I gaze upon their words, the way they flow, the imagery they conjure, the emotions captured and delivered with subtle grace and ingenuity. Hell even just getting a few paragraphs that follow some form of cadence is a miracle to me.
Oh yes, I’ve tried my hand but beyond a few rhyming couplets I start to stutter.
My Dad on the other hand was, it turns out, quite the prolific poet and songwriter. From his early days performing folk songs to writing odes for departing colleagues, he kept on writing and, taking no small inspiration from a well-kent Scottish bard, he wrote frequently for the numerous Burns suppers he attended and performed at, sonnets and speeches, toasts, and retorts, all were well within his grasp.
Latterly he took to writing about all sorts of daily gripes, family life, and anything that came across his view.
I’ve read a few of his creations over the years, shared a few here and there as well. When I sat down to write for my sister’s wedding it was Dad that I had in mind, Dad that I was really trying to impress.
Before he died, my father had started collating all of his poems and songs into a book. He’d done virtually all the work, even gotten as far as ordering 20 copies to test the process. Unfortunately, he passed away before more were required.
I’m currently revisiting this little project of his, and we are hoping to be able to publish some copies in time for the 1st anniversary of his death.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this off as long as I can, but I find that re-reading his words is bring more solace than I expected. I can hear his voice, know where he would put emphasis, and where he’d pause for a laugh, and whilst it’s still torturously sad that he won’t write or perform again, the fact we have all these words of his at all makes me smile; a small part of him retained.
I wonder if that’s now the reason I’m writing more in my journal, and still publishing things here, as a way to capture things for my family when I’m gone. A way to give them this same feeling of sad comfort.
We are having a baby. It’s not the ONLY thing we talk about but it’s a constant, an ever-growing reminder that our lives are about to change in a wonderful, scary, exciting way. There are maternity clothes being bought, nursery furniture to build, baby clothes are being provided (all the neutral stuff we can get from my sister at present), and the level of excitement is starting to build at about the same rate as Becca’s stomach is expanding.
As well as that, life in lockdown continues in Glasgow so the same daily patterns are being followed. I’m still working at home but thankfully on a new project that is keeping me busy and making the days fly by. The slow, if slight easing of the lockdown rules are welcomed though, the chance to hang out with a friend and watch F1, with the same easy chat and banter as always was most welcomed this past weekend.
In other news I’m off for an x-ray on Friday to try and see if the pain in my left hip/groin is a hernia or not (Doc thinks not but it’s not just a strain) so my running and cycling plans have been curtailed. C’est la vie and all that but, adding a cold (yes, JUST a cold) on top has me feeling more than a little frustrated, but I’m switching my mindset on it and viewing it as a challenge and, given I have a planned 50 mile cycle in September to do some training for, a chance to reset my plans and go again.
I know I work best when I have goals, something to work towards. At the start of the year it was to get back to 5KM running, and I noticed that after doing that, it all got a bit vague and unfocussed in my head. Too easy to fall back into bad eating, lazy days, not enough exercise but, as I say, it just means the coming few weeks (presuming a positive diagnosis and way to heal is afforded) will be better for my mental health if nothing else. That plus the warmer and lighter evenings, are far more conducive to actually getting out and about (dog walks not withstanding).
Family wise my newest niece continues to be the star of the family (until late October at least!) and seems to be most content sitting in her chair babbling away. It’s already fascinating to see the differences between her and Lucy at that age, and everyone couldn’t be happier. Lucy is proving to be a great big sister too just as we all thought.
And so, life goes on. Hopefully in the coming weeks with lockdown easing a new normal will finally be upon us, you know, brunching with friends and all that. Yet it seems to be more the case that my new normal is already here, hill walks, occasional catchups with friends and family, and mostly doing whatever I can to look after my pregnant fiancee and our two dogs.
The end of lockdown looms, and life as we knew it will start to re-emerge, like a wonky butterfly from a cocoon.
I know that things won’t be exactly the same again, a new normal will be established and that will take a little time to settle in and I’m ok with that, I welcome it and retain some hope that others will allow people to find their own way into the post-COVID days.
I know masks will remain, public gatherings will be limited, and that there will no doubt be some weird panic buying of some random household item at some point too if news of more spikes in infection rates should arrive (seriously, what was with the loo roll thing?). I am still wary of the masses but I am trusting the scientists.
Regardless of all this, I’m choosing to remain upbeat and looking ahead at what life might be like in the coming months and what I can best do to hold onto the things I’ve grown to love throughout this global pandemic, the things that got me through the harrowing realities and shrinking habits that lockdown inflicted on us.
There is much to forget too; Long queues in the rain for basic provisions, stepping off the pavement AGAIN because THOSE people MUST walk side by side, that guilty feeling that descends when I nip across an arbitrary border to visit my Mum (even though we are bubbled), that moment when you arrive at a shop and realise you’ve forgotten your damn mask, and don’t even get me started on the constant feed of misinformation to the addicted doom scrollers, the idiot anti-vaxers, and even more selfishly stupid non-mask wearers that claim civil liberty infringements, ohh and anything to do with the Tories.
All of those are things I’ll be leaving behind as best I can but on the whole, I’ve been very very lucky through lockdown, it’s not always been easy but there have been more good days than bad and, like most of you, most days have turned into what-day-is-it-anyway days with weekends blurring into weekdays which is both a good and a bad thing all at once. Do I prefer the arbitrary nature, that strange holiday feeling, of not really being sure what I should be doing because I can’t recall if it’s Sunday or Monday, or do I need the structure of a working week to give my weekends some meaning? I am undecided but more and more leaning to the former.
One thing I am determined to try and hold on to is working from home. Maybe not full-time but ideally only a couple of days in the office a week would be the max. I’ve been lucky enough to work throughout most of the lockdown periods and it’s not made a huge difference as most of the people I had worked with were in different buildings or different parts of the country anyway so most of my time was spent on calls and IM chats even when I was office-based 5 days a week.
Another thing I want to take forward is being outdoors. Such a simple pleasure, but one I used to cast aside for no good reason. Having two dogs, one of which needs a ‘good walk’ every day meant that for a lot of lock down it was my only form of exercise outdoors, and ohhh how wonderful it is to be able to walk around in the fresh air, regardless of rain or sleet or snow (there is no thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes after all). The feeling of fresh air on your face, watching clouds scroll overhead, and even occasionally basking in the glorious warmth of the sun. What a tiny little dot of a planet we are, what fleeting moments we exist for, I need to focus on being happy.
There will be changes of course, I will adapt but part of the reason for noting these things here is to remind myself of what I truly value. My family, my closest friends, a good coffee, a walk in the sun, a meandering cycle through the countryside.
I know I will read fewer books as some evenings will be spent visiting and eating out, I know I will experience moments of anxiety too, the return of live music gives me a pause which saddens me as so many wonderful nights have been spent enthralled and jostled as we all dance and move as one, yet the idea of being surrounded by so many people again is one my brain is struggling with.
We will find our way. Of that, I have no doubt. Things will be different, of course, yet I am aiming to retain these simple core values, aiming to retain the new habits and little pleasures I’ve found during this past strange year. There will come a time when we look back on this (hopefully) once-in-a-generation experience and maybe now is when I’m realising that it can mean something more than just death. We will mourn, but we should always look forward.
Life can be simple and if I only take one lesson from all of this, let it be this; find what is truly important to you and focus on it, everything else is just noise.
As with most of my hobbies, I tend to fling myself into them wholeheartedly from the get go. I’m the guy who signs up to the forums, does copious research on the internet, takes notes as he goes, learns as much as he can as fast as possible, and then goes and buys the gear. The topic doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something I’m interested in; as a teenager a friend got me into fly fishing and so (as this pre-dates the internet) I got the books and magazines, talked to the owner of the tackle store, and got the best rod and reel I could afford, and enjoyed a couple of (mostly unsuccessful) years wading into the River Leven and casting away to my hearts content.
Looking back I know I spent a lot of my pocket money on that hobby, hundreds of pounds just to get all the things I thought I needed only to find out that I didn’t need them at all. Fishing can be a very expensive hobby (can’t they all) but the basic satisfaction of standing in the river, the quiet burbling of the water as it flowed around me, and the simple setup I started with remains a fond memory.
I’ve dabbled with other hobbies, been through the DSLR camera stage, with multiple lens and filters and goodness knows what else, and today I solely use my iPhone because the best camera you have is the one you have with you.
More recently my hobbies have had a more serious bent and have largely been based around my fitness. Driven by my advancing years and expanding waistline, not to mention a much keener sense of self that has developed over the past few years; I now have an established (almost) daily meditation practice, I’ve managed to get back to running again and, thanks to lockdown, I realised just how much I enjoy cycling. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before, the simple joy of freewheeling down a hill bringing that instant return to a truly child-like state (with all the OHMYGODWHATIFICRASH background noise of being adult, of course). And man, oh man, if ever there was a ‘hobby’ ripe for geeking out on, cycling might just be at the pinnacle.
Not being a millionaire, I’m a league away from the top of the range carbon road bikes (unless anyone has £10k to spare?) but with some research I found a ‘budget’ road bike with a good set of components, lots of great reviews from seasoned cyclists and trade websites, and so the geekery begins….
This can be as simple as looking at any accessories your bike came with – mine came with lights but they are more ‘to be seen’ than ‘to see with’ and so I’ve upgraded them. Same for the bell (although I went for style over substance and I’m already regretting that a little, a quiet bell isn’t much use), and I’ve already changed to clipless pedals over the standard flat pedals provided. With a dark blue bike with very subtle orange accents, I’ve also gotten two bright orange bottle cages, and two orange end caps (the bits at the end of the handlebars, oh yes, there is nothing you can’t customise on a bike!), just to make it look a bit smarter.
Then there are the practical things you’ll need, inner tubes should you get a puncture and a pump, or perhaps it’s time to look at CO2 canisters which are faster (a real consideration if you are fixing a puncture on a rainy day). You’ll need tyre levers too, and it’s probably wise to have a small multi-tool just in case something works its way loose. Ohh and where are you going to carry all this? Do I get a handlebar bag? Or perhaps an on-frame bag? Or one that mounts under the saddle? Or maybe a carrier that I can throw in one of the bottle cages for shorter rides??
What’s next? Ohh yes, clothes! Yup, I’ve joined the ranks of lycra wankers. Why? Because it’s the best thing to wear if you are on a bike for more than an hour, because you need padded shorts and something that won’t chafe. And yes cycling tops are specifically useful too because you can’t really have pockets in your shorts, so those pockets at the back of the top are super useful, holding a lightweight waterproof (hey, it’s Scotland, even on the sunniest days it still might rain an hour later), my phone, and a few snacks to keep me going.
Ohhh snacks, a banana is fine, but maybe it’s time to look into gels, and is that just water in your bottle or is it an electrolyte replacing, caffeinated combo to make sure you don’t run out of energy?
For the safety conscious among you, yes I wear a helmet, and the rest of my ensemble includes cycling gloves, and cycling shoes (that clip into the pedals), and glasses with interchangeable lens (including clear ones which stop your eyes drying out too much on dull windy days). And yes, all of these little things make a difference, I’ve got the research to prove it.
And so it goes.
Truth be told there isn’t really much I need to add and the only thing I’m considering next is a proper bike fitting – a couple of hours with an expert making sure my seat height, handlebar height and position are correct – and this is only because in September I’m tackling Etape Caledonia and will need to do a fair amount of training for that, so I’d rather not open myself up to niggles and injuries just because my seat isn’t quite at the right height.
After that, who knows? With bikes still being largely mechanical and easy to upgrade there are all sorts of things to consider. Do I want to upgrade the chainrings to something with a wider range? Will a new saddle make a difference to my comfort on the bike, would it help me go faster? I have not, yet, gotten a bicycle computer, nor have I added power meter pedals as that seems a little OTT, and anyway the next key component should really be the tyres, or maybe the entire wheels could be lighter and faster. There really are so many things to consider.
My geek is well and truly on, it’s true. The more I read the more I wonder if changing THAT thing will be worth it for me or whether it’s only really the pros that would even notice. There is an entire subset of cycling geeks obsessed with the weight of their bikes, with each single component examined for any potential gains that could be made. It’s the kind of thing the Sky/Ineos team do, look for the smallest gains everywhere and by the time you add them all up you’ve made a leap forward.
I’m not quite there yet, although this all does feel a little different to my past deep dives into various hobbies. At the simplest level I have a bike, I know how to ride it, and all I really need to do is get out on it for as often, and as far, as possible. Everything else really is just noise, something you realise when you are cycling and all you need to do is focus on the road ahead. To that end the instant enjoyment is what I think will make this a longer lasting hobby, and in time I may even start to consider myself a cyclist.
I know myself well enough that I will make little changes and tweaks to my bike over time but I’m doing my very best not to fall into a well known cycling equation that is (semi) jokingly used in every cycling forum I’ve looked at.
The correct number of bikes for you to own is n+1. N equates to the number of bikes you own, therefore you should always be looking to acquire your next pride and joy.
Given that my new bike is still less than a year old I think I’ve got a ways to go before any n+1 thoughts. Although I’m largely going to have to ignore the fact that my (to be) in-laws are all cycling enthusiasts and will very much be prime enablers of any future bike purchases.
For now I’m more than happy with the bike I have, the joy I have using it, and the eagerness to which I look forward to my next ride. That’s the key for me, get to a place where I’m happy and comfortable and I know this hobby will become more than that, if it hasn’t already. With warmer days approaching I know I’ll be itching to go out more and more often, and my bike is always waiting patiently to whizz me along on the next adventure.
That’s how long it was from the 18th of January to the 28th of February.
I mention this with purpose as I set myself a little challenge which lasted for – can you guess? – 6 weeks, but I confess it wasn’t wholly my idea.
At the start of the year I wrote that I didn’t have any aims for 2021 and that’s still true; this year will (still) be mostly headlined by the pandemic and whilst life goes on, I’m not really looking to upset my own apple cart. What worked for me in 2020, the habits I built and which I get the most benefit from, will continue on through 2021.
However it’s fair to say that over the past couple of years I’ve had a much longer term plan forming in my mind, the type of thing that starts off as a vague notion then slowly starts to crystallise into something more solid until one day, all of a sudden, you realise you’ve already decided what it will be. This plan may, or may not, have something to do with the fact I will be leaving my forties in a few years time.
It was just over six weeks ago that, with 2021 stretching in front of us, Becca and I were chatting about some of our longer term desires as a couple, where we were hoping to end up in the next few years, and what our own individual thoughts and dreams were alongside that. While I had some vague ideas for myself and certainly knew roughly the direction I wanted to head, it was only when we started discussing our joint future that things started to take shape.
Throughout 2020 I’ve been slowly building habits that will stand me in good stead for the future, more outdoor exercise (the dogs help with that obviously), daily meditation and the like. And my general fitness levels definitely benefited from the increase in cycling mileage as well. I’d even gone for a few runs and enjoyed it more than I realised. But talking about my long (very long) term plans and trying to explain my thinking and some of the ideas I had to make them happen, well the more I talked the more impossible it seemed, and I definitely do not want to set out to try and achieve the unachievable, why set yourself up for failure like that?
So Becca made the simple suggestion to not focus that far out, and look at something in the near future. “Maybe try six weeks”, she suggested and rightly posited that it’s long enough to see progress (sometimes a month isn’t) but not so far in the future to be unimaginable. It also meant that if I started the following Monday, those six elapsed weeks would take me to the last day of February.
You know that way when someone says something that clicks in your brain and all of a sudden you have the urge to smack yourself upside the head for not thinking of it in the first place, well this was definitely one of those moments, one of those can’t see the forest for the trees moments that makes you feel both grateful to the person who thought of it, and a little peeved with yourself because it’s kinda obvious… why yes, I WILL break down my long term plan into smaller achievable goals. OF COURSE! *smacks self upside head*
Of I went to figure out what that would all mean and how it might work, and it got me thinking back to the times I’ve set myself challenges in the past, knowing how quickly I can get disheartened and how I tend to be a little unrealistic, so with that in mind I decided to give myself plenty of leeway to reduce those pressures, to remove as much of my fear of failure from the outset.
I picked up where I’d left the Couch to 5KM training plan at the tail end of last year but I decided to only run twice a week and ‘do something else’ for a third activity (turned out to be indoor cycling using a turbo trainer and Zwift). That was it, anything on top of that was a bonus, and I deliberately left my weekends free to either be active or not.
As a perfectionist, this all met my deep-seated need to ‘plan the crap out of everything’ but left room for changes to the plan as and when required; for the few days when we had bad snow and ice I only used the indoor bike, then did three runs the next week to catch back up with the plan.
And whaddya know, six weeks later I’ve finished the Couch to 5KM plan and completed my first 5KM run for over 10 years, I lost weight consistently throughout, my blood pressure is lower, and I’m giving myself a hearty pat on the back for completing the challenge I set myself. I’m also giving Becca a big hug for listening to me talk about it and nudging me in the right direction (I’m telling you, she’s a keeper!).
For the record, I did skip a few of my planned sessions, one time because I just didn’t want to do it. We also order takeaway once a week (twice one weekend), and I still eat cake too. My point is that the plan was a guide, not a schedule, and I deviated from it now and again because LIFE. Yet I navigated my way through the last six weeks happy that I was ‘just doing it’. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
Looking ahead it’s likely I’ll do the same throughout the rest of the year, break my fitness plan down into 6-week blocks, and by this Autumn, with a bit of luck, I should’ve gotten my running distance up to 10KM, and I’ll also have completed the 65KM Etape Caledonia (in Sept). And hey, if I don’t manage all of that, I’ll still have been way more active and thinking about my health more which will automatically have the effect of lowering my weight, and more importantly, my blood pressure down to much healthier levels.
Isn’t it amazing what you can do in 3,628,800 seconds = 60,480 minutes = 1,008 hours = 42 days = 6 weeks.
OK, that’s four very similar words, that’s a start. Let’s build on that.
There must be something I can write about.
Come on brain, let’s do this.
There is something in there somewhere. You know how this works.
The words will come.
I read an article about the impact the pandemic has had on casual friendships, those acquaintances you only saw now and then back in the heady days of 2019, it’s definitely something I could write about. How I’ve got a core group of close friends but everyone else is more an acquaintance, and how those latter relationships have been reduced to a few likes and comments here and there on social media.
But that’s not unique. Everyone is feeling that.
What else then.
I read about Joe Biden’s morning routine, I could write about mine, get up, stretch, have breakfast, go upstairs and start work.
Yeah that’s not really that interesting is it…
I’m running again, making my way through the Couch to 5K program, and in a week or so it’ll be complete.
Yeah, so there’s that.
What an odd time we live in.
OK, I give up.
To be honest between our recent engagement, the arrival of Daisy, and just getting on with life day by day, that feels like enough right now and whilst I have the usual morass of nonsense banging about in my head, and about six or seven blog posts in draft, this is about all I can muster up.
And my ohh my what a first world problem this, bemoaning the fact that I’m struggling to write down some words whilst I sit here in front of my shiny laptop in a warm home with food in the cupboards. What a privileged bubble to occupy.
But that’s a whole other thing. Right?
Or maybe that’s the point, that’s the blockage right there, the cold realisation that nothing I write here matters. Nothing I post is of consequence to anyone except me.
Yet that should be freeing, that should open the flood gates, if nothing I post here is of note, if it holds no real value then post and be damned! Except it’s never worked that way, has it. This is part of me, a filtered and focused view into my life, the parts of it I want to share with you at least. So dear reader, here we are again, another trip down the introspective rabbit hole? No, not today.
I’ll stop here and revisit those drafts I think, see if they can be cajoled and buffed into something. Anything.
Anyway, enough about me, how are you? Comments are open, what are you struggling with?