Moments Of Clarity

There are moments which seem to change you forever; after which, life and your outlook on it is never again the same. I’ve experienced a few of those in my 39 years; perhaps the most important of which was the birth of my Son. His arrival  seemed to unlock a part of my brain that wasn’t consciously accessible to me previously, enabling new and unrealised thoughts, emotions and abilities. I call it the “Firmware Update”. Now, I’m not saying that I became a perfect father overnight; I’m far from it and still learning as I go. Every day is a school day, and the day we stop learning and growing as individuals should be the day we draw our final breath. After that event, becoming a father,  I have learned to identify the things that matter, the people who are important and tried my best (which is difficult with my OCD tendencies) to let the unimportant things go. As I’ve said previously, I’ll write more about Joseph’s birth in another post, one which is dedicated solely to it; in this post I want to write about another “moment of clarity” in my life, one which I touched upon in my very first post and which took place three years ago today. And, unfortunately, one that came following tragedy.

David was a lawyer, like me. A young man; a young family man. 40 years old, married with two young sons. He worked at another firm of solicitors, his office not more than 100 metres from my own but had recently transferred to their Whitby branch which was closer to his home. We were often on the other side of each other’s property transactions and whilst I “knew” him in a professional capacity and well enough to have a nice conversation on the telephone, I didn’t really know him at all and we certainly weren’t what you’d think of as friends. I only met him in person just the once, and that was briefly in passing at his office whilst having a declaration sworn by a Client. He was always chatty & upbeat but prepared to have a moan about work with me if that was the mood I was in (and it often is!). Then, one day not too long later, he was gone. He woke for work one morning, was in the process of starting his day with his family and had a heart episode. He died right then & there.

Word gets around very quickly in a small town and it was on that very day that I heard he had died. Although I only knew David professionally, his death had a profound effect on me personally. The immediacy of his passing, so unexpectedly & suddenly and at such a young age brought into sharp focus for me the fact that we have no guarantee of how long we have on this Earth and no control over how we will leave it. I of course then imagined myself in his position – leaving Sarah and Joseph to go on without me. I’ve taken out life insurance jointly with Sarah so if and when I do go, I know that she and Joseph will be financially sound, but the hardest part, was that at that time Joseph wasn’t even a year old and I knew he wouldn’t remember me. Sure, he’d be shown photos and be told stories as he grew up, but they’d be of and about someone he had no memory of. That thought still brings me to tears. Joseph will be 4 at his next Birthday, still not old enough to retain any real memory of me if I die. The actor Denzel Washington once said “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. You can’t take it with you – the Egyptians tried; they got robbed.” All we really have are our memories, our experiences and our love; everything else is transitory. Perhaps this is why minimalism appeals to me even more in recent years. It’s also the main reason I started this blog; so that Joseph will be able to read my words after I’m gone. David’s death made me start to question why, having no guarantee of the length of my own lifespan, I’d spend so much of it tied up doing things which don’t leave me feeling fulfilled, purposeful and worthwhile, including my work.

I had for some time been interested in hiking the old Whitby to Scarborough railway line, closed following the Beeching Review in the 1960s. Referred to as the Cinder Track, it’s approximately 24.5 miles long, far more than I’ve ever hiked in a day and it runs at points not far from the coastal path the Cleveland Way, giving beautiful views of the Yorkshire Coast as you go. I didn’t attend David’s funeral – not being family or a close friend it seemed false for me to do so. I heard that his family had asked for donations rather than flowers for the service, which would be given to Child Bereavement UK, from whom David’s family were receiving support. David worked in Whitby when he died and I of course still worked in Scarborough; the two towns connected by the Cinder Track. After much thought and consulting David’s Wife to ensure she was happy for me to do so, I decided that I would do the walk and try to raise as much money for the Charity as I could.

cinder track photo (Image of one of the waymarkers along the Cinder Track, taken by me on the day of the walk).

img_0114

(I refer to this as my “National Geographic” shot, with the shaft of light breaking through the trees that line both sides of the path).

I chose a day in August to do the walk when I knew the weather would be clement (it did actually rain a little on the day, but I had a waterproof lightweight jacket just in case – it turned out to be the weekend of the Whitby Regatta), set up a JustGiving page and wrote to all the local Law firms and estate agents etc. to ask for donations. My friends and family also gave generously.

Although many people had expressed an interest in walking with me, eventually all had made other plans but my Father offered at very short notice to walk some of the route, if not just to give me some company. We arrived in Whitby just after 9am on the day having been dropped off by Sarah, who then returned to Scarborough where my Mother was looking after Joseph. We were joined for the first few miles by David’s wife who had also helped in raising funds, and a friend of hers for support. My Father walked by far the hardest part of the route, the approximately 11.5 miles between Whitby and Ravenscar, which is largely uphill, before being picked up by Sarah at the Raven Hall Hotel. Not far from that spot is the old Ravenscar station platform, which marked more-or-less the halfway point of the hike – I would walk that section alone for a few miles before being joined by Sarah at Hayburn Wyke for the final 8 or so miles into Scarborough, the end point of the Cinder Track being a marker at the children’s playground at our local Sainsbury’s supermarket, where Joseph now often enjoys time on the swings and slides. That wasn’t the end point of the full journey however – there was the matter of the final half mile or so to the door of my office, where we were collected by my Father. Other than being a little stiff and sore for a day or two after, the hike went without any problems and I had only a little trouble once following the way, which is very well marked and dotted with long closed and often converted station buildings and platforms.

We raised just over £1,300 in David’s memory; his Wife told me that he would have been astounded that someone would do such a thing for him; but, all things considered, what had I actually done? Send a few letters, write a few social media posts, start a collection page and take a hike. Nothing. Not in comparison to what he’s done for me – the realisation that life is short, longevity not guaranteed and that we ought to spend our time doing what we love, with those we love. The lesson he unintentionally taught me cost David his life. I won’t ever forget him. I hope his sons never do too.

 

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Paying what you owe

I’ve already posted before about our Five Year Mission to clear all our debt including our mortgage within 5 years from and including January 2019 and we’re well on our way with that ambition, having repaid Sarah’s student loan in full in January. I’ve also this month repaid just a little over 40% of my car loan for Mirabeau – that payment alone has saved me a few pence more than £74 per month and reduced the final payment due at the end of the loan term by almost £1,000. Staggering. Just goes to show that if you can repay debts early, the benefits can be enormous. I also made the payment on my credit card (which I will repay immediately) generating £15 in Nectar points as an added bonus.

Once that loan is indeed settled, there’s just my student loan and our mortgage to go. As I’ve said previously, there’s little benefit in repaying my student loan earlier as the interest is just 1.5% per annum and I’ll see no monthly benefit in take-home pay given I make only one lump-sum payment each year, when I pay my taxes being self-employed. So, when my car loan is paid in full, we’ll begin paying down our mortgage (being careful not to exceed the amount of the capital we’re allowed to repay each year without penalty).

Having decided to stay where we are (for now!), we’ve also begun renovations at our home to make it better suited to our needs. In addition to general decoration, maintenance & repair indoors, given that parking is at a premium on our street, we’ve decided to block-pave our front garden which should enable at least two vehicles to be parked on the driveway rather than just the one. Although Mirabeau is parked in the garage, that will mean that Sarah’s car (which is too large for the garage in any event – why do they build them so small in this day and age?!) can remain on the drive and we have a visitor space as well. This is quite an expensive renovation, but it will hopefully increase the value of the house by a small amount, certainly improve its kerb appeal and give our visitors the comfort of knowing that their car is safe from damage (at the moment, they have to park either on the relatively narrow road or over half the width of the footpath). A new porch light and modern house numbers will improve its look further at minimal expense.

On top of this cost (bloody hell – haven’t we spent enough already?!) we’ve also decided that next year we will finally take Joseph to Florida. He’s now almost 4 years old, so at least an extra year will mean that he’ll hopefully be tall enough to ride most of the attractions at Universal Studios and Disney World in Orlando and retain more memory of the trip in future – we’ll likely take in Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios whilst we’re there. But, we’ve also offered to take my Parents with us who have, amazingly, accepted. This is quite a feat, as my Parents have never been on an aeroplane or left the continental United Kingdom. They didn’t even have passports until a year or so ago, which to date remain unstamped. I’ve had a love affair with the United States all my life; being a cinephile there’s nothing I enjoy more than visiting the cities and locations depicted in my favourite films, together with theme parks which celebrate them in all their glory (I’m currently reading the book Chasing the Eighties by Spencer Austin, a Londoner who visited a number of film locations in the US and Canada and met several stars during a multi-month road trip with his friends in 2004). Sarah is a huge Harry Potter fan and so visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure was her dream – she cried the first time we entered Hogsmeade during our first trip to Orlando in 2013 and we’ve been incredibly lucky to go to Orlando 4 times in total so far. Introducing our Son and my Parents to a place we love so much will be special for us. My Father woodworks as a hobby and for many years has often marvelled at the vast number and variety of tools that are available in the US – to take him to a Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Target will be an eye-opener for him for sure! I’m not sure however how my Parents or Joseph will cope with the flight (9 hours-ish from Manchester UK to Orlando International) and I’m almost certain that my Father has a fear of flying (he won’t admit to it of course). This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to persuade my Father to come to the States with me – I offered him an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas for a few nights in September last year but he declined, despite my Mother telling him he should go. My Mother is desperate for an overseas holiday and I hope they will go on a short-haul flight somewhere in the interim – she’s always wanted to see the tulips in bloom in the Netherlands and given that it’s a short flight from Leeds-Bradford Airport and that the Dutch speak fantastic English, it will be an ideal first-time experience for them.

When discussing the Orlando trip with my Parents this last weekend, my Father expressed concern that we’d insisted that we pay the cost – I reminded him of how much my education had cost him over the years and that the cost of the vacation would pale in comparison to that sum. His response was that paying for my tuition over the 4 years (of course in addition to the cost of raising me since birth) was his “duty” as my Father. They did of course pay for my Sister’s education as well, but this was only a fraction of mine (for my 4th and final year of University in 2002 / 2003, the Legal Practice Course, my Father gave me a cheque for £10,000 to cover the cost of the course and help towards living expenses. They generated this money by borrowing against their house). I said that I wanted them to view the holiday as a thank you, and to in some small part repay them for all they’ve done for me over the 39 years of my life. Whilst he insisted that repayment was neither needed nor wanted, they would accept our invitation. I think having them there will add to Joseph’s enjoyment of the trip – he loves his Grandparents very much.

Other than the theme parks and film locations, the one thing I enjoy the most is the food. I’ll need to seriously drop my daily calorie intake to prepare myself for the influx of goodness from Denny’s, Uno’s Pizzeria, Cheesecake Factory and Margaritaville, to name just a few of our favourite restaurants in Orlando. It’s been several years since I’ve enjoyed a Wendy’s burger (that first trip to Orlando in 2013 as a matter of fact) and I’m determined to visit this time around. Although Sarah will likely buy Harry Potter souvenirs from Universal Studios, I usually limit myself to just a fridge magnet. I try and resist the urge to buy sneakers at the Nike outlets when we visit the discount malls at each end of International Drive (because I already have so many pairs!), and often if I find clothing that I like, I’ll compare the price online to see if I can make a saving by buying it elsewhere (and I often can and do!). I’m not averse to spending money, providing I’m being intentional with my purchase and getting good value for money.

It’s likely to be at least a year before we’ll be able to go, which will give us all a good amount of time to plan, book and save the cost of the trip, as well as giving me something to look forward to. With our debt reduction plans and these fairly large items of expenditure it’s likely to be a fairly low-key year for us, but knowing that we’ll be on a financially sounder footing in 2020 and having a wonderful vacation on the horizon will make the frugality worthwhile.

Getting something off my chest

Very shortly before the start of my third and final year at Huddersfield University in September 2001, I met the girl who would spectacularly dump me later in January 2004, who was mentioned in my very first post. She lived in Dewsbury at the time, just over 8 miles away from my student digs in Huddersfield where I spent a very memorable 9 months with my friends Rick, H and Gav. Being a poor student, and a fan of a good hike, the thought often crossed my mind that I should walk to her house on the weekends when it was “my turn” to go there and save the measly few pounds it cost to take the train. The walk would take three hours or so rather than 10 minutes on the train, but money was tight and I really liked the idea of it.

I never did do the walk, but here’s the thing. Even though she and I haven’t been together for more than 15 years at this point, the thought of that walk to her hometown has been a splinter in my mind ever since 2002, when I graduated from Huddersfield and moved to Leeds. Somewhat like Nate Damm’s American 2011 coast-to-coast walk chronicled in his book “Life on Foot”, which I’m currently in the process of reading having bought a copy on Kindle (I’m trying to be a minimalist here!). Nate’s walk took him more than 6 months whereas mine wouldn’t even take 6 hours, but the point is that he’d been thinking of the walk for a couple of years and couldn’t let the idea of it go, similarly to me. I’m going to give it a name right now, which will be the West Riding (Hood) Walk – so called as Huddersfield is in the West Riding of Yorkshire. For short, I’ll henceforth refer to it as WRHW.

The WRHW has been on my mind again recently, as Sarah and I walked part of the route when we collected her new car in Huddersfield just a couple of weekends ago, as the dealership is situate on the imaginatively named Leeds Road (guess where it goes to?!) being one of the main routes in and out of Huddersfield from the M62. She knows about the walk having told her of it before (and thinks I’m stupid, of course), but walking a couple of miles of the route has only whetted my appetite. What I had in mind, for maximum nostalgia, is to take a day away from the office, likely on a Friday, take the train to Huddersfield early in the morning after dropping Joseph at nursery before spending a little time in the town centre and walking a route which will take in the house I lived in with Matt in years 1 & 2, past the University Campus, underneath the railway viaduct to the street I lived on with Rick et al in year 3 (checking H’s now legendary Syphon Filter sticker remains in the window, where it has been for the last 17 years or so) and onto Leeds Road, out of town past the Odeon Cinema (which was a UCI when I was at Uni) and the Huddersfield Town Football Club ground, which so far as I’m concerned, will always be the Alfred McAlpine Stadium (it’s current name is John Smith’s Stadium).

The thing is, of course the intended destination of the WRHW would no longer have any real purpose for me, so I’d have to select something more appropriate and meaningful, whilst still fulfilling my original ambition. Of course, my folks still live in Leeds and on consulting Google Maps (don’t trust it when it says it’s a 45 minute walk from E39th Street in Manhattan to Battery Park – it isn’t) I’ve planned a route from Huddersfield, through Dewsbury and to the White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds, where I worked during my fourth and final year at University at Leeds & shortly before returning to Scarborough to complete my legal training, and which is just a short bus ride from my folks’ house. This would extend the walk to just over 14 miles, which should take somewhere between 4 and 5 hours to undertake, depending on weather, terrain and my general physical fitness but would finally see me get the WRHW off my chest. Sarah would be at work whilst I travel & walk, but could collect Joseph from nursery afterwards and drive to Leeds to meet me & spend the night with my folks. As it’s on major roads, I should be able to find shops for refreshments which means I can travel light, as I always like to.

I’ve checked that the route can be done on foot using street view and it does seem do-able. I’ll finalise my plans and post with pictures when I’ve finally plucked out this 17 year old splinter.

EDIT: 14th February 2019 (Happy Valentine’s Day!) just a few days after publishing this post, I can confirm that the WRHW is on. My day away from the office is booked, accommodation arranged with my very understanding parents (my Mother asked why I’d want to do such a walk in the first place and that it sounded like a lonely thing to do – what can I say, I suppose I’ve always been a little unusual), my advance train ticket has been purchased (saving nearly 50% on the usual fee!) and collected from the Scarborough train station and I’m preparing my trusty Vans UltraRange sneakers for my first proper Urban Hike. No spoilers as to when, but it’s not too far away and I will make sure to post with a map of the route and lots of pictures. Provided I make it up the bloody big hill out of Dewsbury.

The last one before 40

This is how it was put to me by my friend Miles when we spoke earlier in the month about my 39th Birthday, which was earlier this week. “It’s the last Birthday before you’re 40!” he said gleefully. His Birthday isn’t until August; he’s in the same “academic” year as me but takes great delight in being 7 months my junior. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter much to me; it really is just a number. And, I suppose, an indication that I should know better – all evidence to the contrary. There’s such a stigma in our Western society about ageing that I really don’t find logical – it’s almost seen as a crime. Advertising would have us believe that we should seek to remain in our 20s, that we should all be slim, beautiful, have great skin, our natural hair colour (i.e. not grey) and be fit & agile and, if we’re prepared to shell out loads of our money and time, the products the advertisers are seeking to sell will somehow help us achieve eternal youth. It’s absolute and utter bollocks (this is one of my favourite curses by the way – so versatile and utterly British).  Nature herself moves in seasons as does all life on planet Earth; we are born into the Spring, enjoy the Summer, advance to our Autumn and finally bring our lives to a close in the Winter. There’s no fountain of youth and I for one feel that we should embrace ageing – when did experience, knowledge and wisdom start to count for so little?

Needless to say I won’t be dying my hair any time soon but I do need to start improving my overall fitness; after all, even though I’m no spring chicken it’s no excuse for being so overweight and unfit.

I’d taken a couple of days leave from the office to celebrate my Birthday and had planned with Sarah for her to do the same: the plan was to spend this last Saturday in Huddersfield (where Sarah and I met at University) looking around our old stomping grounds and have lunch. We’d then booked a stay at a nearby hotel (Joseph would be staying with my folks for the night again) and planned dinner out at one of Sarah’s favourite restaurants, Aakash in Cleckheaton. These plans went slightly out of the window however when we received word that Sarah’s new car was ready to collect (also from Huddersfield) and although we spent an hour or so there in the town, the day was really spent dealing with collecting the car. We did stay at that same Hotel and did have dinner at Aakash so I suppose “out of the window” is an unfair assessment! We collected Joseph the next day and came home before spending Monday taking the new car out for a run and having lunch out at one of my favourite eateries, Ed’s Easy Diner in York. It’s a typical American diner clone with the usual fare, but I do enjoy their Reese’s Peanut Butter Milkshakes, although they’re not a patch on the shakes available at Denny’s in the US (I miss Orlando and we need to visit again soon!). That evening we had dinner in our local Tex-Mex restaurant, with me ordering my usual, the chicken & beef chimichanga. Sarah also had her usual, steak and chicken with salad & rice.

I’ve always been difficult to buy for, made worse with my now minimalist bent. Birthdays are similar to Christmas in the fact that everyone feels obliged to buy you a gift: often they might spend money on something you really don’t want or need so when asked I usually suggest either a small gift of cash (£5) or a bottle of Coca-Cola Classic, a bar of chocolate and a big bag of crisps (read potato chips my American friends)! When Sarah and I had our New Year stay in Leeds earlier in the month, she bought my Birthday gift under my close supervision (by which I mean I picked and she paid!) and my folks gave me some money in my Birthday card. My Mother always prefers to give me a gift to unwrap, but the difficulty is there’s very little I want or need at this point. Indeed, all of the few items in my Amazon Wish List are books (Sarah has ruined me!) so I may put the funds to buying one of those, although I do still have several books on Kindle to read as I type. I recently bought an Apple Magic Keyboard 2 to use with my iPad for writing blog posts etc. as I find it so much easier to type using a physical keyboard than the virtual one on the iPad or my iPhone, and at £79 on sale (£20 off the usual retail price in the UK) that was far too much for me to expect someone to buy for me as a gift, but was pretty much the only item I was looking to buy. My Mother had offered to buy me a new t-shirt from one of my favourite companies, Last Exit to Nowhere (which makes & sells film related apparel – if you’re a cinephile like me I highly recommend them) but I’ve recently bought one of their designs to replace an old and worn out shirt (again during the January sale with 20% discount) so I’ve no real need. I do also try to keep a fairly minimal wardrobe – it’s by no means capsule but certainly not full of stuff. I have two pairs of jeans, three pairs of chinos which I wear for work, about half a dozen work shirts, two casual short sleeved shirts, one polo shirt and about a dozen t-shirts / sports jerseys. I also have two hoodies (including my Big Red Hiking Hood!) and four coats (winter, summer, a biker jacket (which I’m sure I look ridiculous in but I love it) and a long wool overcoat). I won’t tell you how many pairs of sneakers or backpacks I own – that’s where my minimalist aspirations fall down – but I’m sure Courtney Carver, the creator of clothing challenge “Project 333” wouldn’t hold that against me! If you’ve not heard of Project 333 I highly recommend researching it. I do of course, also wear underwear, but I never see the need to include that as I presume it’s always a given! My Sister did buy me a box of Twinkies and some bath products which are always welcome. I do enjoy gifts which can be consumed!

All in all, I’ve had a pleasant Birthday and enjoyed “the last one before 40”. Also, as it’s taken 7 months for Sarah’s car to be built, I really didn’t mind spending Saturday collecting it and it was quite serendipitous that we’d already planned to be in Huddersfield that day.

Just by way of update on our 5 Year Mission (see earlier blog post on this subject), we have now repaid Sarah’s Student Loan in full. It’s taken quite a chunk of our savings to do so, and we’ll now save for the next few months before assessing the situation in April / May to see if we can pay off my car finance on Mirabeau, which I’m sure we’ll be able to. As we’d see very little take-home cash benefit in paying off my Student Loan earlier (I make only one lump sum payment each January being self-employed), we’ll likely let that be discharged via the usual repayments, by which it should be repaid in full in the next 2 or 3 years (i.e. well before expiry of the 5 Year Mission). The annual interest on my Student Loan is currently 1.5%, which equates to approximately £67.50 annually so not too much. If we repay my car finance, we can expect to see a saving of almost twice that sum each month, which we can then funnel into mortgage repayments, being our only other borrowing.

 

 

The Little Things

As a youngster, it seemed to take forever for the School holidays to come around and once they did, they’d be gone in a flash. Although life as an adult is in part like that observation, it’s clear you have far less free or holiday (read vacation) time away from work than you did from school. As Sarah and I both have very busy lives, it’s often the case that we might not be able to take time away from work together in large amounts – often we might be able to take just a couple of days here and there. This being the case, I feel it’s always a good idea to make plans for the forthcoming months, to always have something to look forward to, even if it’s just a night away or a meal out. Something little if need be.

It just so happened that 5th January 2019 was the 10 year anniversary of Sarah and I becoming a couple. Before I continue, I perhaps ought to give some background. Although we met at University in 1999, I would scrape through our end of year exams in that first year whilst Sarah failed just one exam, twice. That being the case, she had what I refer to as her “Ace Rimmer Year” (see the classic BBC sit-com Red Dwarf), where she was held back a year whilst she re-sat that element of the LL.B Law course and passed the exam, this time with flying colours, meaning that at the end of her Degree after 4 years, her classification was better than mine. I was obviously a bad influence. As I advanced, she was no longer in any of my classes and we lost contact with each other. She lived at home in Bradford and would commute to Uni whilst also working, meaning that there was never an opportunity for us to meet up. Although during our first year together we did share a few moments of attraction, she had a long-term boyfriend at the time.

Fast forward to the closing weeks of 2008 after the end of another short-lived relationship for me (told you I’m useless with women and Internet dating is the worst) I happened to find Sarah on social media, which I’d joined only recently before. She was now single and not having seen each other since 2000 I sent her a friend request, which she accepted. After a brief telephone conversation, we agreed to meet up before I went home & back to work in early January, as I was at my folks’ house in Leeds for Christmas. We met in the city on 2nd January 2009 and spent the day catching up, going for lunch and dinner in between shopping (this was before I did the majority of my shopping online, and as Scarborough isn’t exactly burgeoning with shops I’d frequent you have to take the opportunity). It was clear there was a mutual attraction between us still (I’d also lost a fair amount of weight since she saw me last) and we agreed to spend the next day together too, which went equally well, again going for dinner and to the cinema (Quantum of Solace, if you were wondering, dear reader). She’d tell me that weekend that she’d often wondered what had happened to me but, she just couldn’t remember my family name and so couldn’t look for me (as a result, one of our 2 songs is “Whatsername” by Green Day, one of her favourite bands. The other is “Baby I Love You” by The Ramones, one of mine).

Having already spent a year at University getting to know each other, things escalated quickly after those two days and by 5th January 2009, we’d already agreed we wanted to be an exclusive couple.

So, getting back to this past weekend, it was 10 years later. We’d agreed with my parents that they’d take care of Joseph for the day & night whilst we checked into a hotel in Leeds so that we could ‘re-enact’ that day. Sort of. After the high of Christmas and the inevitable return to work in the New Year, this was also one of those ‘little things’ we’d planned in advance to look forward to and to soften the blow. We booked a room at the Radisson Blu Hotel at The Light entertainment complex, which is across the street from where we had met up in 2009 and which placed us in the heart of the shopping district of the city and 10 minutes walk from anywhere we might want to be. We booked through LateRooms, paid less than £50 and not expecting much, were astounded when we got to our room. I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest, if not THE nicest room I’ve ever stayed in. With Sarah having Coeliac disease, we checked the menus of a number of nearby restaurants in which to eat dinner (in 2009 we only went to a nearby Wetherspoon pub but didn’t want to eat there this time, in the evening when the bar would be busy) and settled on Browns, with the added benefit that it’s in the very same building as the Hotel so just a few steps, door to door.

As we were going to have a nice evening meal, and given that by this point it was around 2pm, we had just a small lunch with me opting for the thing I HAVE to have each time we visit Leeds city centre – a Taco Bell! I may have a problem, but as there’s so few of them in the UK currently I have to get when one when I can. Sarah had a gluten-free sandwich from Marks & Spencer so that I could indulge. The meal at Browns was lovely, even if the pie I ordered turned out to be beef & vegetable filling in an oven proof dish with a thin filo pastry lid. To me, it’s just not a pie unless it’s wholly encased in short-crust pastry! I had chicken liver parfait for starter, with Sarah opting for scallops (one of her favourites). Her main was a braised shoulder of beef. Another “experiment” I like to do when trying somewhere new is having a burger and fries as my main. The reason being (in addition to really liking burgers!) that it’s perhaps one of the simplest meals you can order at a restaurant and if they can’t get that right, it sounds alarm bells for me. In this case however, Sarah put her foot down and insisted I order something else.

Whilst Sarah treated herself to a few items in the sales, I didn’t buy anything as really, there’s nothing I need at the moment. My Birthday is coming up in a few weeks (something else to look forward to!) however and Sarah let me choose two Blu-ray films in the city centre music, film and games retailer where I once worked years ago as my Birthday gift. I did also wear my Vans sneakers all weekend, having not had the opportunity of going out for a hike over the Christmas break. On the whole, I’m very pleased with them but as I observed previously, whilst excellent for Urban Hiking, I don’t think they’d be very suitable for cross-country walks (which admittedly I get to do very infrequently).

So, as I mentioned, the next ‘little thing’ to look forward to is my Birthday, when I’ll likely post again, but all in all, we had a lovely weekend reminiscing about that first weekend together, now 10 years ago. Happy Anniversary, Short-stuff.

Origin; Part 3

I started High School in September 1991; I was no longer in the same class as Richard, who was in the other “half” of the year meaning I’d have little to no classes with him (the intake was around 250 kids per year and these were separated in to 8 different “forms” of 30 or so kids). I was in Form 7.5 (i.e. year 7, class 5) but did make new friends almost immediately, including a rather portly young man called Allan. It was around this time that I’d too start to fill out, and I’ve never been thin since! We were friends through the majority of High School but he didn’t follow us through to 6th Form, instead working for the local Sainsbury’s Supermarket before moving away to Sheffield. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him (more often than not I’d bump into him in Scarborough town centre when he was visiting his family – he was a big man when last I saw him both in height and weight) but he told me he was happy having come out to his parents and found love.

In my class was a girl called Rebecca, who I fell for almost instantly. I was trying to chat her up in my own useless way (I’ve always been useless with women) in Design & Technology Class but was constantly being pestered by a boy in the same group called Matthew (Matt), who wanted to talk about pop culture, toys and action figures. After the first few weeks when it became clear I wasn’t cool or handsome enough to win Rebecca’s affections, I spent more time talking to Matt, despite the fact I actually found him quite annoying at first and we would constantly get into trouble for talking during lessons.

In year 8, a shuffle of classes meant that I ended up in Form 8.2, now the same half of the year as Richard, who I’d continued to be friends with in and out of School; I introduced Matt to Richard and as we all liked many of the same things being pre-teen boys, he was a good fit for our little expanding group of friends. I’d like to say that we were geeks before it was trendy to like films, Star Trek, superheroes and the such-like. Matt brought Miles (who I’m still very good friends with to this day) with him to the group, although before 6th Form he was on the fringes. We definitely weren’t the cool kids although we wouldn’t be troubled by the bullies too much during High School. In our last year of compulsory education, year 11 at age 16, there was however a falling out in our group, which then splintered. Matt (for some reason which I can’t recall at this point) was ostracised by the main group, including Richard, and was no longer welcome to hang around with them. I remained friends with both sides, although in the summer break between School and 6th Form I got my first job (thanks to my soon to be ex-Brother in Law) washing dishes at a newly opened Italian restaurant where he worked. This meant that there wasn’t the time to hang out with Richard so much any more, and, as he wasn’t going to 6th Form and had started to smoke & drink, we started to drift apart. I tried smoking to “fit in” but after that first try decided it wasn’t for me. We did of course start going out drinking and clubbing during our 6th Form years, but by this time I barely saw Richard at all and Matt & Miles were now my best friends.

6th Form was fairly uneventful for me; Miles would meet the girl whom he would later marry (many years later after she’d returned from University when we were in our early / mid 20s) after introduction was made by Matt, and although there was a very small amount of interest from a couple of girls, unfortunately I didn’t feel they were for me. Ultimately, it was a means to an end; the precursor to the big one; University. The trouble was, although Matt was sure he’d read Politics, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Matt was involved with campaigning for the Local Labour Party candidate Lawrie Quinn prior to the 1997 General Election (which was won by a landslide, making Mr. Quinn the first ever Labour MP for Scarborough & Whitby (he was unfortunately ousted in 2005)) but I was studying Psychology, German and IT, none of which were fields I really wanted to pursue post 6th Form.

At the end of the 2 years of 6th Form, Matt was accepted to read Politics at Huddersfield University and went off to start what he hoped would be his political Career; although he obtained a very good degree qualification, he instead went into recruitment, but I’m getting ahead of myself. My exams were done, the results were in, but I hadn’t applied to University. Matt was having a great time at Uni and, when he would come home, would meet with me to insist that it was an experience I’d very much regret not taking if I didn’t go. My Sister was in her third and final year of her Nursing Diploma, and so it was decided that as I could still attend 6th Form for free for another year, I’d enroll in a couple of extra classes and hope I had decided what to do by the end of that year – that and it would mean that my folks weren’t paying two lots of tuition fees at once (this was back in the day when it was around £1,300 per year, not the mammoth £9,250 it is as I write). Matt had studied and enjoyed Law at A-Level, so I decided I’d give that a go. I also chose Business Studies and Media Studies, all at AS-Level (which was at the time effectively half an A-Level). Business Studies was tedious; essentially economics with the interesting parts omitted. I did however very much enjoy Law with lecturer Peter Ashton, who was good fun and drew you into the subject. I consulted with the head of year and asked that I be given permission to drop Business Studies and complete A-Level Law in a year, studying both years simultaneously. Although related, the two years were in fact different elements (year 1 focused on the hierarchy of the courts and how the Justice System worked with year 2 being solely criminal Law) which could effectively be treated as separate subjects and as such I was permitted. I’d found something that I really enjoyed reading, and decided quickly that this was it. I’d be a lawyer. I applied to Huddersfield (where Matt was studying), Leeds (where my Sister lived, and who had told my parents she wouldn’t be returning to Scarborough after her education) and Northumbria at Newcastle (a very well respected University – I knew I had no chance of being accepted). I was accepted at the first two even though my A-Level grades were average, and chose to join Matt at Huddersfield. He’d lived in the University Halls of Residence in his first year, but had arranged to rent a house not too far from Campus for us to share when I joined him. The house was on a huge hill, which took some walking to get up; it was small (and Matt insisted I have the smallest bedroom) but was comfortable enough. There was no shower, the lounge sofas were not great to sit on and the kitchen looked like it had been in situ since the 1960s, but it was home away from home. On my first day of Uni, which was largely concerned with enrolling on the course and being shown where everything was, I met and became friendly with a girl called Sarah. Some years later, in 2015, she’d give birth to our beautiful boy. So, if it wasn’t for Matt, Sarah and I would likely never have met. He was also the friend who put me in touch with the partner at the law firm where I am now a partner myself, nearly 14 years later. As I said, he’s played a pivotal part in the story of my life, for which I will be forever grateful to him.

Origin; Part 2

Although I have very vague recollections of visiting my maternal Grandparents under one roof, they have been divorced for the majority of my life. My Grandmother was known for cheating on my Grandfather, and I understand that (possibly as a result of her cheating, or maybe it was the cause?) he would regularly beat her. This behaviour resulted in my Mother, when she was still very young together with her even younger sister, being taken into care by the Salvation Army. We always put money in their collection boxes whenever we see them as a result and Sarah often becomes emotional at the thought. My Mother has false teeth and has ever since she was in her teens as a result of malnourishment when she was young. My Grandfather is, as I’ve mentioned, deceased and although I carried his coffin at the funeral with three of my male cousins, I did so for my Mother, who of course in spite of everything still loved her Father. I shed no tears for him (although I haven’t mentioned that we share the same Birthday and like him, I have a fascination with timepieces and footwear) and my Father has always disliked him for taking such poor care of my Mother. As a result of the divorce however, actions were put in motion which would not too many years later ultimately benefit me immensely.

My Grandfather began dating again and eventually settled down with a new partner. She claimed to be employed in the hospitality industry and “knew all there was to know about running hotels.” This was later proved to be a complete fabrication but I’ll continue. An idea was floated and eventually sold to my parents that they, my Grandfather, his partner and my Sister & I would relocate to a coastal town for a fresh start, where we’d buy, live in and run a hotel. This was during 1987 when holidays to UK seaside destinations were still very popular, unlike today where it’s often cheaper or a comparable price to go abroad to mediterranean destinations with superior weather. I’m unsure of how many destinations were initially considered, but the final shortlist was just two; Skegness and Scarborough. We’d holidayed in Great Yarmouth the year before (the only family holiday we ever took during our youth) but I don’t recall it being considered.

Reconnaissance trips were planned to both destinations and, for whatever reason, Scarborough was selected as the final choice. By March 1988 we’d packed up our lives and moved to our new home, a 5 storey Hotel on Albemarle Crescent in the town’s centre complete with our dog Tyga, a brindle-striped boxer who was about 18 months old. I remember being desperately unhappy at the time – we had of course had to leave our friends, school and extended families behind in the hope that this new life would be better than a future in Mansfield, which was feeling the bitter pinch of losing it’s coal mining industry at that time. Of course, very quickly we settled and I made new friends, one being another recent import to the town, Richard who had moved from Leeds with his family. Although we did make a few trips back to Mansfield in the ensuing years, I would never see my friends Robert or Wayne, nor my best school friend, Sandy, again.

There wasn’t much for a young boy to do in Scarborough for little or no money at the time and not as many green spaces to play in as there were in Mansfield, especially in the centre of town. I spent a great deal of my first year in Scarborough reading and as a result, my reading level was that of a 13 year old at age 8. My schooling also improved considerably (later in Secondary School I was in the top class for all subjects save for mathematics). Richard lived above his Aunt & Uncle’s dancewear shop (now long closed), which was immediately next door to one of the few local video rental shops, named Movieland. Richard had older siblings who were able to rent films for us we had absolutely no business seeing, such as Predator, Aliens and Robocop. They had a stellar back catalogue of older films which could be rented for 50p – I spent much of my years between 8 and 16 renting films and watching them with Richard and our small pool of friends which expanded during our school years. Richard chose not to pursue education after school however and as such, eventually we fell out of touch as I continued on. We’ve reconnected through social media some years later after my return to Scarborough, but I haven’t seen him face to face in perhaps more than 20 years as he moved to Leeds whilst I was reading Law in Huddersfield and more recently Lytham St Annes. A few years ago, an important piece of my childhood was forever lost when Movieland closed, a victim of the ever advancing march of technology and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. A sad but grateful message was left in the window by the owners – I myself hadn’t rented a film from them in likely more than 10 years when they closed, choosing to buy my own copies of films for my collection instead following the explosion in DVD sales and of course enjoying staff discount at the music, film & games retailer I worked for. That, and not having owned a VHS player since 2003. Although I now use those aforementioned streaming services, I feel it’s a poor substitute for the joy of finding a title amongst the expansive racks of VHS & DVD boxes; the joy of the hunt has been lost.

Let me back-track a little however, because the Hotel venture didn’t last long; in fact I believe it was a little less than a year. Although the business seemed to be doing well, money would regularly go unaccounted for and my Grandfather would be generally unpleasant to both me & my Sister. I didn’t like his partner at all and even though my Father would work a full-time job during the day, he would also work the bar at the Hotel on an evening in high-season during the summer which would leave him exhausted. My mother would handle the day-to-day running of the Hotel when it became clear my Grandfather’s partner had spun an elaborate fiction about her expertise, including cooking meals for guests and cleaning the rooms etc. My Sister and I were generally confined to the top floor of the building, where we each had a room across from our parents. Tempers frayed, and one day after an argument following my Grandfather shouting at my Sister and I for something petty, he found himself lifted off his feet with his back against a wall, my Father’s hands grasping his throat. My Father was in his early 30s at this point and was a much bigger man than my Grandfather. Very shortly after that incident, we moved out and after temporarily renting a flat for 6 months just a few doors down from the Hotel, my parents bought a large 5 bedroom house not far from the town centre and cut their losses with the business. After being fleeced by his partner in the early 2000s, my Grandfather returned to Mansfield having sold the Hotel, which like many other multi-storey large properties, has since been converted to flats. In 2003, with my Sister having moved to Leeds and completed her training as a nurse, married and had the first of her 3 girls, my Parents again moved, this time to Leeds too, to be near to and help my Sister and also owing to the fact that at that time I too lived in Leeds, attending University to obtain my Diploma in Legal Practice. They still live in Leeds in that same house they bought (where I also lived until April 2005) and are helping to deal with the fallout from my Sister’s divorce. It’s taking quite a toll on them who, now in their early to mid 60s, should be taking things easier. My Mother retired from paid work a year or two ago, although she still looks after my nieces almost daily. My father works just 16 hours a week which is enough to meet their outgoings, having finally repaid their mortgage with inheritance from my Grandparents’ estates. I hope he’ll be able to retire fully very soon, sometime within the next 2 years. He’s counting down the days until he can stay in his shed full-time and concentrate on his hobby of woodworking and refurbishing old tools.

I mentioned in my first post on my blog a friend who put me in touch with the man who would eventually become my employer & mentor to complete my legal training – that friend has played a pivotal part in my life and I’ll write more about him in the third and final installment of this trilogy of posts.