bookmark_borderA very minor peeve (in three parts)

I digress. Where was I?

Ohh yes, watching the ‘… is typing…‘ message and waiting, waiting, waiting on that third message…

To recap, so far, they’ve sent:
09:14 – Hi
09:14 – Can I ask a question?
09:14 – [… is typing]

Annnnnd finally a third message appears, the actual question that they wanted to ask me all along has finally been unveiled. I’ve still not seen it as I’m not at my desk, my status is set to Away with a little red circle helping (those who aren’t colour blind?) fully understand that I am not available to have questions asked of me now, forcing me to leave that message unread, unloved, floating in the ether until I deign to reply!

Three separate messages, less than 30 seconds apart.

Why?! Is there some setting I’m unaware of that automatically starts a new message based upon certain triggers? (they said “Hi”, quick start a new message… ohhh they ended a message with a question mark, start a new message…???)

Or as is increasingly the case as I grow older mature, is it just me? Is my approach the wrong one here?

Here’s how I’d do it.

“Hi, was wondering if you can help, I need blah blah…”

One single message; polite (I said Hi!), consenting their time (vaguely), and including the actual request itself. All in one line in one message so that the person who, I am pretty sure, can read English to a competent level, can parse it all immediately before telling me to naff off, or leave the message ‘unread’, or maybe even respond to my request.

Like I say, this is not any real level of annoyance, in fact it’s barely a blip, a quick wondering that I toss aside with barely a second thought.

But it keeps happening, and it’s not just one person and it’s not just my current colleagues. It is, and has been, rife throughout my career.

Did I miss a class in school or something?

Or is the problem me? Hi.

[insert culturally prominent Taylor Swift reference here]

Answers on a postcard, or in the comments as who can afford to send postcards these days (have you seen the price of a stamp! Bloody Tories!).

bookmark_borderHello 2024

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Well, I would’ve but for one thing I’m not in a Beatles song, and more pertinently I have no hair on my head, something my 2 year old son recently confirmed to me when, upon being asked if Daddy had hair on his head like he did, he looked me right in the eye and, with a little laugh and smile said ‘No’.

He’s definitely my son, the cheeky wee bugger.

Christmas is over, a new year has rolled around and I’m full of positive and good intentions, PMA oozes from my pores although that might be the third coffee I’ve just downed. I’m hoping to keep my blogging mojo on the burner but as ever I won’t make any promises, this will be what it will be and that’s ok.

Jack had a great time over the festive period, he’s not fully aware of the whole idea of Santa and Christmas yet but he will be this year, so we took advantage of that and kept everything low-key. Christmas Day was a feast of family and food, and it was a good reminder of the good people we have around us. 27th is my annual ‘friends day’ which is always fun, and aside from that it was pretty much just spending time with my son. Add in a cheeky night away for Mummy and Daddy (thanks to Granny Morna for the babysitting) and it’s been a refreshing break.

Hogmanay was wild though, wow! I jest, Becca was working early on New Year’s Day so it was the usual routine and I’m pretty sure I was asleep by about 10pm.

2024 will bring what it will bring – so far I have a 50 mile cycle planned (Etape Caledonia), and we will be heading to Skye for a holiday around May/June – and no doubt there will be more changes to accommodate along the way, more chances to learn, more ways to be a better me.

As always I’ll remain Happily Imperfect though, it’s the only way I know how.

bookmark_borderIt’s that time of year again

When bloggers start to compile lists, pulling their worldly-wise thoughts together into recaps, looking ahead at the looming calendar change and all that it brings with it (or not if that’s what floats your boat).

I don’t get much time to write these days as the bulk of the content I create is for my journal and, specifically, the monthly letters I’m writing to my son. I am still trying to carve time for this weird little space of mine; the existence of this blog remains a mystery to me, even though I’ve been nipping in and out of the archives of late, marveling at the crafted words that leap from the screen. Did I really write them? Isn’t it odd how time and a live well lived can alter your own perception of your own abilities.

That said, having been at this blogging lark for a while now I can sense my fingers itching to find the sweet spot between cliche and anything resembling something interesting to read and so, dear reader I give you two recaps for my past year.

It has been an amazing year, a wonderful holiday in France, the love and support of our families, a new job that I am enjoying immensely, and as the year staggers to an end I find I can mostly reflect on the positives this year has brought. I look no further than my own home for a reminder of the love, happiness and comfort I know I am ohhhh so lucky to enjoy.

It has been a shit show of a year, I lost my job the night before we travelled to a 3 week holiday in France so had to spend 2 weeks doing interviews and sending my CV left, right, and centre. Our car lease ended and we had to downsize (literally) to something much cheaper. I’ve not established any form of exercise routine and have put even more weight on (on to a body that really does NOT need more weight on it). And there are other closer to home issues that are on my mind that I am powerless to do anything about. Ohh and the Tories are still in power, money is tight, and I’m permanently tired.

Emotionally it’s been a rollercoaster but hey, that’s life. Ups and downs, like every year before this one, and all the ones yet to follow… ohhh yes, may as well play into the cliche and head down the Christmas Past, and Christmases yet to come route!

On the whole I’d very on the first recap, largely because of how happy I am on the whole, the simple act of waking up my son in the morning, or playing on the floor with him, or splashing in puddles with him, or partaking in whichever activity he favours the most on any given day, have me happy and smiling, no matter how tired or fatigued I’ve felt. Add to that the support, care and encouragement my amazing partner has continued to offer me, no matter what she is going through, only adds to the sense of disbelief and joy I feel; tellingly these were the two main emotions I experienced this past year!

If I was a good blogger I’d now recap my favourite things from the past year, the best books I’ve read (so far I’ve read 32, the DI Fawleys remain the most enjoyable), the best TV show watched (Slow Horses, The Bear), and the most watched movie (Toy Story!).

But I’m not a good blogger and no longer care to track these things in any detail as, if I’m being honest, I’ve never really gotten any value from them and I’ve long since moved away from the ‘quantify your life’ view of things.

So their you have it, likely not my final post of the year but one that has been bubbling in my head from the moment the calendar turned to December. As I said, I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a while and old habits die hard. Yippekiyay Motherfuckers!!

bookmark_borderPaying for Calm

On Tuesday evenings Becca goes out to work, so it’s just me and my boy from about 4:30pm through to his bedtime (anywhere between 8-8:30).

So far, regardless of the rest of his day, we’ve managed to get him into a pretty good routine in the evenings;

  • Dinner time at 5pm. Finishes whenever he announces he’s ‘aawww dunn’
  • Time to play – current favourite is to run from one end of the house to the other and crash into Daddy on the sofa!
  • Fruit at 6pm with strawberries and grapes currently the favoured options (I say favoured, he eats them so that’s all that counts)
  • More time to play, or sometimes we just lie on the floor rolling his toy cars around.
  • A glass of milk is offered at 6:30pm and drunk over the next 15mins or so.
  • Teeth get brushed at 7pm, right before his bath.
  • After his bath it’s straight to his bedroom for wind-down time. I’ll read him a story or two as he sits quietly on my lap…. hahahah not really, as is more often the case, he spend the time burning up the last of his energy, running up and down, giggling his head off.
  • From about 7:30 I’m watching for signs that he’s slowing down and getting tired again, as soon as I can it’s into his sleeping bag, big light off, and into bed (or sometimes we cuddle in the chair for a wee bit first).
  • He’s usually in bed by 7:45pm or so and asleep by 8:30 at the latest most nights.

When Becca is working, then during all of this my sole focus is him. No phone, no other distractions, even the dogs now just doze on the sofa knowing they won’t get any attention from me. Even if he’s at his toddler tantrum worst (which to be fair he’s never really all that bad with no reason) it’s still oddly relaxing, having a singular focus like that.

And I love it, but I wonder if I only cherish these moments because I work 5 days a week so I regularly have time away from Jack when he’s not on my mind every second of the day (just every other minute…) because I’m focusing on something else even if I still think about him often.

Recently someone posted this on Threads:

“something I didn’t realize about parenting before I experienced it is that you always have some sort of tether to your kid. if they’re asleep, you’re listening to the monitor. if they’re with grandparents or at school or daycare, you’re watching your phone. I don’t regret becoming a parent, and I also wish I could hyperfocus the way I used to.”

https://www.threads.net/@rebbiest/post/CxYOyf1uYff

I had to agree, that ability to hyperfocus on something was lost to me for a while but it’s definitely coming back, admitedly that’s mostly because my work is keeping me busy (my previous job, not so much) and, as I’ve recently mentioned, it comes coupled with the sense that I can start to plan to do things just for me, I can be my focus.

That said, there is something I find very refreshing about my evenings with Jack, the routine to be followed and the simple singular focus helps to clear my mind of the usual noise and I typically end my evening feeling very calm and accomplished (even if all of this has been in the midst of the tiny chaos agent running amok in our home!).

I don’t think it’s just because it’s wonderful and fascinating to spend time with Jack, seeing the world as he is seeing it. Rather I think it’s likely something to do with putting my phone away, and letting myself focus without distraction.

Becca and I joke about who spends the most time on their phone (probably me!) but it’s telling that Jack now demands us to ‘poot pone way’ at times when he wants our attention. It’s so easy to pick up your phone and get lost in something largely unimportant and whilst we both use our phones for important things as well – and those things tend to be about Jack which makes his demand a little annoying at times – we both know it’s better for him if he knows he has our attention. He is far far more important than our phones!

It’s also telling that iPhones now have much better ‘Focus’ controls, something I’ve been experimenting with to limit what I see on my phone throughout the day, which is where having a clear routine for Jack really helps, I can schedule my phone to turn off all notifications during his bedtime, for example, so my phone isn’t buzzing and lighting up whilst I’m trying to get him to go to sleep.

There is a balance to be found here of course, Jack is growing up in a world where these miniature hand-held computers are the centre of how we run our lives. We don’t always cede to his demands to put our phones away as he also needs to learn about boundaries and that, sometimes, Mummy and Daddy are allowed to say no, and no that doesn’t mean you throw yourself down and start banging your head on the floor (tellingly he only does this on carpet, not the laminate… just saying. Not daft this one!).

I’m enjoying my solo parenting evenings (and weekend mornings) more and more, and finding that quiet calm has definitely been something I’ve missed and there is no doubt that spending time with Jack is helping me find it easier to put my phone down and focus on one thing at a time.

It’s reminding me that I used to be able to this, and that I know how much it benefits me (and my loved ones) to have a calm mind and a clear headspace and all of these thoughts are prompting me to get back into a habit that I’d set aside for a while; Meditation.

I’ve mentioned my discovery of meditation and it’s benefits before and for a long time I used an app called Calm. It’s one of the better known meditation apps, and usurped Buddhify (which I loved) because of the simplicity of the ‘Daily Calm’ a 10 minute guided meditation.

It was possibly timely that I’d drifted away from meditating each day (hey, life gets in the way) as, when I got the subscription notification for the coming year, I was a bit shocked to see it was £50. I was immediately conflicted for, whilst I’m happy to pay for software as I recognise the effort that goes into building and maintaining it, I don’t consider meditating as something I WANT to pay for… surely it’s something I should be able to just DO, without an app.. yet I don’t and have used Calm as a trigger to remind me of the benefits I know I get from meditiation and… ok look, I’ll be honest, I struggled to properly understand my feelings here, I just know that something didn’t sit right with me when asked to pay £50 for an app.

And I’m absolutely certain I did not pay £50 for using this app in the past as anything over £20 gives me pause. I know it shouldn’t especially for an app like Calm that offers constantly updated content, and from which I have derived a good deal of personal pleasure. I think it’s simple because it’s an APP on my phone that makes me consider the price point this way. Weird.

Anyway, rather than splash the cash straight away I decided to look around for alternatives and stumbled head long into the world of ‘for profit wellness’.

Looking at the top hits in the App Store (and looking at the In-App Purchases available, which is in and of itself a complete clusterfuck of similarly named and priced options…), it quickly became apparent that Calm is not alone.

  • Headspace – £50
  • Balance – £63
  • Mo – £60
  • Breethe – £70

The good news is that there are, still free options available, Oak, Smiling Mind, and Medito.

I thought I’d start with Oak and whilst it’s the same 10 min meditation every day it was working ok for a week or so but I quite quickly realised I was missing having new content each day. Medito and Smiling Mind didn’t really land for me (aesthetics and UX just not ‘for me’ but might good for others), so I found myself a little stuck. I perserved for another couple of weeks but I was starting to ignore the ‘Meditate’ reminders more and more and the entire practice was slipping away from me.

AND THEN

Along came Black Friday and Calm had a 50% off sale and, £19.99 later, I’ve signed up for another year. Morals, what morals?

I did swither though, honest I did, and whilst part of me doesn’t really like the fact I am, once again, supporting the “wellness” market this way, I have to be honest and say that Calm worked well for me over the past few years so it’s nice to have it back. Sometimes we need to put ourselves first I think, compromise where you can, but given this is all about helping me find more calm (how apt) then it’s a compromise I’m willing to make.

Looking ahead to 2024 I hope I can keep carving out 10 mins each day to meditate. Just as I hope I can get back out on my bike more often, as it too brings a level of focus that brings a level of calm to my busy brain.

And of course I still have time with my son, existing in his world is a focus in and of itself. And when he’s not diving around burning off his toddler energy, we both enjoy little moments of calm. A hand held during a walk, a cuddle on the sofa , or just lying on the floor rolling his cars around.


P.S. The CALM offer is still on if you are interested. No, I’m not on commission nor is this a paid for post.

bookmark_borderAlmost 50

Apparently old age hits when you are 68, or so I read. I’m not sure why that is, and I’m sure smarter people than me have outlined the reasons in great detail but, on the whole, it sounds about right given that I’m soon to turn 50 and I do not think I’m all that old.

Some days I feel old but I’m not really 50, I’m somewhere in my late twenties I think, it’s hard to pin down an exact number but that’s where my head usually lands when someone asks me how old I am. Isn’t that weird.

The truth of the matter is that I am very aware that I’m about to turn 50 but that’s entirely down to the fact I have an almost 2 year old son. He is at once a constant source of delight and wonder, and a reminder of my advancing mortality.

When Becca and I first got together, she shared her desires to have a baby. It was something I’d consider in the past (and obviously decided against) but with Becca it felt right, it felt like where our lives would head naturally and I quickly found myself delightedly agreeing.

With that thought in my head I found myself starting to think what would be required to bring a healthy baby, safely into the world. From conception, through the pregnancy, and the birth itself I admit there were many worries on my mind. As soon as we knew we were pregnant, despite all the checkups going well, it was hard for me not to worry about the baby being healthy, and when it was time to head to the delivery suite my head was full of conflicting thoughts should the worse happen. Thankfully it didn’t, with Jack arriving safe and sound, and Becca handling all of it (and the post-partum issues) with the strength and compassion I knew to expect from her.

There was also one recurring thought that still pings around my brain. It started soon after we agreed that we would be having a baby and continues to this day.

How much of my son’s life will I see?

How old will I be when Jack starts school, how old when he learns to drive, when he turns 21… 30?

Early on I hoped these thoughts would drive me to get healthier and fitter, the longer to live to see him grow up, and whilst that hasn’t really panned out, it’s still a big factor of my thinking.

I know a lot of this train of thought was driven by the (still recent) passing of my Dad. He was only 73 and though my Mum is still going strong in my head I’m always hoping I can at least make it to the same age my Dad was, that’ll make Jack 25 years old and hopefully I’ll grow old with some comfort that he’s turned out ok (I mean, I know he will, but I’m a parent, we worry about these things).

It is a strange thing to have your mortality so clearly outlined. It’s certainly not something I’ve previously considered in great depth largely because I was only really concerned about myself. Turning 40 was seen as a celebration and a chance to mark ‘half a life’ lived, but with the constantly running commentary in my head centred around how many more years of life with Jack I’ll manage, turning 50 seems much more daunting, not to mention so much closer to, well, death.

Wow.

I should pause at this point and remind you, dear reader, that I tend to write these posts with only a rough idea of what I’m going to say in my mind, barely an outline, and usually only a starting point. So forgive this rather morbid turn!

OK, so I’ll be 50 soon but I don’t really FEEL that age… that said can someone tell me how am I supposed to feel? From what I can tell, if my closest friends are anything to go by I don’t really see much difference, and whilst I know these days I’m mostly just a bit tired I think that’s more about living with a toddler than anything to do with how many years I’ve lived on this planet.

I am almost 50. I have zero complaints. I have a great life, have had many great life experiences, and find myself settled, content, and happy, with a beautiful family. I feel loved by many people, and none of that has anything to do with my age.

I’ll admit I do harbour a deep-seated desire to make sure that when I do pop my clogs I’ll leave my beautiful wife and beautiful boy financially sorted but that’s still a work in progress. For now we have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and we laugh more often than we cry… actually we laugh more often than most things, we are a happy little pack of weirdos!

A few years ago, with this number starting to loom, I started a little plan I called Fit for Fifty, and it was going pretty well. I got back into running and completed a few 5KM runs. I got heavily into cycling, and last year I had about 5 different organised ‘sportives’ booked. I was driven. I was focused! Annnnnnd I hadn’t really taken into account the time it takes to train for these things versus the time it takes to nurture a baby…

I didn’t make ANY of those sportives and it’s only really now, since I’ve recently managed to get back out on my bike a couple of times, that I realise just how much of a back seat my plans had taken.

Yes, for the best of reasons (there is literally NOTHING I wouldn’t do for that boy) but it still has an impact on my physical and mental health. I’m slowing getting back into it, but still struggling to find time, and when I do have time I’m exhausted and struggle with motivation, it’s a horrible cycle (no pun intended) to be stuck in!

Perhaps this post is my way of giving myself a kick. Or perhaps that was when I signed up for the 2024 Etape Caledonia cycle sportive (55 miles up some big hills), either way there is a vague sense of being able to get my fitness goals back on track. Like I said I have a much bigger incentive than ever before, and I’m doing my best to use the happiest moments with my wife and son to coax my exercise mojo out from its hiding place.

So I’m turning 50, so what! It’s just a number and as I’ve mentioned here before, with life starting to open up again I can look ahead to the future with hope and love. It’s just a number, and if nothing else matters then I can take a look at how all of my closest friends are ageing and take solace that I’m still not quite as old as them, even if it is only a matter of months…

bookmark_borderHotel Life

Hotels are strange places. Particular the big chains that always give me pause when I am woken from my slumber by an early alarm, those initial few seconds it takes to remember where I am in the world when confronted by yet another bland room with the exact same layout as the other bland rooms I’ve stayed in before.

To be fair, most of the time I only every stay in a hotel for a few nights so as long as it’s clean, has a decent bed and a shower, I don’t need much more. It is but a roof over my head, a base to explore the world from, so my requirements of a hotel room aren’t the most extravagant. As long as it’s good enough it’s good enough for me, as I’m sure someone else once said.

It’s no coincidence that I am writing this very post whilst sitting on a not too uncomfortable chair, in front of an almost usefully sized desk in a Premier Inn which, as expected, is as perfectly innocuous as any other. It’s quite a skill to have the interior design of such places broken down into a perfectly repeatable format that is used so often I’m sure most of you can picture the room I’m in without any more description.

This is not to putdown this, or any other, budget level hotel. They have a valuable place in the world and part of that is down to their insipid offerings. The fact that each Premier Inn room is essentially the same, that every Tune hotel has the same offerings (no I don’t need a window or more than one towel thanks), and all come with such similar colour schemes that there becomes a tranquility and comfort in their familiarity. When you’ve spent a day exploring the world, or been working in a new location, it’s nice to have a calm space that doesn’t challenge or overload your brain. Long live mediocrity.

I guess that’s why, when you do stay at a hotel that has put some thought into the little details or offers decorative touches that stand out, those are the ones that leave an impression. It can be the simplest of things – USB charging points next to both sides of the bed for example – that stand out, and many times it’s a tiny detail that in hindsight makes you wonder why EVERY hotel doesn’t have such a thing.

As mentioned staying at a hotel with USB points, as well as standard plugs, on both sides of the bed, seems like such a trifling matter on its own, but if you include a remote control for the air conditioning, a choice of pillows in the cupboard and not one but three different, large, surfaces to accumulate all the junk we end up with us when we travel, and what could’ve been a basic hotel room quickly goes up in your expectation. Add in some unique design touches, maybe eye catching wallpaper, or a luxurious armchair (to throw your clothes on) and suddenly it all feels so much more luxurious.

The flipside of this though is that such rooms aren’t familiar. The minute I step into the room of a more upmarket hotel, one that has a bigger budget to equip and decorate the room I’m always aware of the money I’ve spent, and try to take in the details, make sure I use all the facilities. I act like I’m staying in a hotel, I’m aware I’m staying in a hotel and I always feel a little out of place. As much as I like my creature comforts, I’m a man of simple tastes for the most part, happy to make do with the basics as long as those basics are good enough.

A posh hotel room is too far from what we have at home, it doesn’t feel familiar, it doesn’t feel safely unchallenging, it reminds me that I am not at home, that I am far from my loved ones.

So you can keep your high thread count linens, and complimentary robes and slippers, give me something bland and familiar.

Wow, I’m not sure I could be any more middle-aged than this.

I am Premier Inn.