An actual post about hiking!

The Black Friday sales were recently upon us, something which we in the UK have taken up following the example of our American cousins. I purposefully try to avoid buying anything during this period as I feel it’s simply a ploy by Corporations to create a false sense of urgency, a fear of “missing out” on a good deal, making us buy things we might not really need simply because “they’re a bargain”. Research undertaken by consumer group Which? actually notes that many items are available at cheaper prices at other points in the year, although website Trusted Reviews states that a great deal of the deals on electronics during the Black Friday period are often the best.

As it turns out however, I was actually in need of a few things; some new work shirts and a new pair of hiking shoes, my last pair having bitten the dust almost a year ago. I managed 5 shirts for £38 from the dreaded Sports Direct but took some more time to research my hiking footwear.

More often than not, I usually buy fell running sneakers (yes I’m British but say sneakers rather than trainers!) as I find them far more comfortable and less likely to chafe. I’ve read that the supposed benefit of ankle support from boots is largely overrated and I prefer something light and easy to get in and out of. I had a pair of Adidas GSG9 trail sneakers when I walked from Whitby to Scarborough in 2016 (a supposed 24.5 miles down the old closed Whitby-Scarborough railway line, referred to locally as the Cinder Track) and suffered not a single blister. They were extremely comfortable, supportive and even better, well priced; less than £50 from (yet again!) Sports Direct. The model has been retired now however and it’s replacements are significantly more expensive so I wanted to look for an alternative. I rarely get the chance to do a proper hike and spending £100 plus on a pair of sneakers is not something I’d normally do; £50 is usually my budget.

I’ve mentioned that I watch a couple of automotive YouTube channels, one of which is The Stradman. He’s a 28 year old former accountant living in Park City, Utah who now makes his money from his channel. He’s nothing like me. I do however admire his style and he often wears Vans sneakers. I’ve never bought anything made by Vans before, but saw their UltraRange sneakers which have a sole which looks like it’d provide plenty of grip and they were described as very light. I’ve recently come across Urban Hiking, which involves planning a long route around towns & cities, taking in stairways and crossing over bridges, combining hiking with exploring. I’m lucky enough to live in a town with a Medieval Castle and plenty of areas to explore so this really struck a chord with me. Having a busy work life and wanting to spend as much time with my Son Joseph as I can also precludes me from taking days away on hiking trips so it seems ideal.

Vans themselves of course had Black Friday deals, and I was pleased to find that they were selling the UltraRange at one of the best prices on the web – £63 down from £90. Still a lot for a pair of sneakers in my book but a significant saving, so I took the plunge. They arrived last week in time for a scheduled day off on Friday, and I took them for a short walk of about 6 miles or so to break them in. They’re like wearing slippers; so light and comfortable, they’re possibly the most comfortable sneakers I’ve ever bought (with the possible exception of my Nike Roshe Runs). I’m not sure how good they’ll be for cross-country hikes, but for urban hiking, they’ll do nicely. With Christmas fast approaching and having a few days away from the office, I’ll try to map out a good 10 mile hike and give them a proper test. Who knows; I may even try to upload some photos in my next post!

 

Santa Claus is coming to town…

It’s the 1st of December, and my office closes for our Christmas break in just under 3 weeks. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year; I get to spend time with my family away from work, knowing that my desk will be as I left it when I return without a whole host of matters and work to catch up on. It’s particularly special this year, as I’ll have almost 2 weeks away with our offices not re-opening until 2nd January. Having Joseph also brings more enjoyment to Christmas, as watching him open his presents with the enthusiasm and joy only a child can have at Christmas brings back so many happy memories of my own childhood. I’m not a religious person so for me, the festive season is all about family time. Living on the Coast, although it’ll likely be quite cold on Christmas Day, we often like to go out for a walk along the foreshore to help Christmas dinner settle.

Christmas can however, be a difficult and unhappy time for some. People who are alone and lonely can often feel more so at Christmas; when Joseph is a little older, I hope to be able to volunteer with the Salvation Army on Christmas day with Sarah and Joseph spending time helping those in need. I think that contributing beyond yourself is something that we all should try to do as much as we reasonably can – it’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve been able to help someone who truly needed it and the Salvation Army took care of my Mother when she was young when her own parents were going through a difficult time. Whenever we see a Salvation Army collection box, we try to put in at least a pound or two for that reason.

Many families also struggle with affording Christmas; buying presents, food and having to take holidays away from work (sometimes unpaid) with the kids being away from school. My family always managed as my parents worked damned hard (my Father would work during the day, my Mother at night) to make sure we never went without anything, although we were by no means spoiled (certainly not by today’s standards!). Compulsory consumption, buying things because that’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do, is a big problem in our society and never more so than at Christmas. The television is flooded with advertisements aimed directly at children who of course then want the things they’ve seen to be bought for them as gifts to frantically unwrap on 25th December. When you’re living on a tight budget already, this can bring extra stress to households already struggling to get by and grief to parents, who just want to see their children happy.

I’m fond of my “experiments” (I’m sure this will come up often in my blog!) and this year, Sarah has agreed that we can “do Christmas” on an agreed budget. Both Sarah and I have jobs that enable us to afford whatever we want or need pretty much whenever we want or need it and there’s just no need to buy things for the sake of it. I’m a doting father and I’m sorry to admit that I already spoil Joseph most weeks in any event. Even though I want to be a minimalist, it’s not something I will force on him. He can make his own decisions when he’s old enough to do so.

So, how has our Christmas budget been set? I want to pay for all our gifts and food etc., without spending any REAL money. For the purposes of this experiment, REAL money is defined as money from earnings resulting from our employment. We shop often at Sainsbury’s Supermarket and have a credit card which generates Nectar points each time we use it.  This results in a fair amount of points building up over the course of a year and, even after spending a substantial amount of them in the last few months, our current balance is £60. I also have a £20 Marks & Spencer Gift Card which was a gift from a Client and a bottle of Moet, also a gift from a Client. So, £80 in total and no need to buy a bottle of anything to have with Christmas dinner. I’m not a fan of champagne, but we’ll drink it to save on buying anything else, and it was a nice gift in any event.

Now, this is where we cheat a little bit – you see, we can’t buy everything we might want from Sainsbury’s, so what we do is use the Nectar points to pay for our weekly food shop in exchange for cash from the shopping budget, which can then be spent anywhere. Sarah has bought me one of my favourite films for £10 from Amazon (we’d usually try to shop locally, but it’s unlikely this particular film will show up in the few places where we can buy Blu-Rays in our little town) and I will spend about the same on her. Joseph will be inundated with gifts from everyone else so we’ll buy him a little gift worth about the same amount as ours. So, £30 on gifts, which leaves a whopping £50 for food – some of which we’ll buy from Marks & Spencer to use up the voucher with the rest coming from Sainsbury’s using up the balance Nectar points if needed. Done. Christmas “for free”.

With regards the credit card by the way, I clear the balance every month automatically and never pay interest. We use it as an expenses account and as you can see, we do get quite a bit of benefit from it. We don’t absolutely need the line of credit but it keeps our ratings topped-up just in case we ever need credit for anything (mortgage, car etc.) and everything purchased on the card is automatically insured as an added bonus (in case of fraud etc.).

Whilst some of my friends understand and support these ideas, quite a few of them do not and have openly accused me of being a Scrooge, as if I’m robbing Joseph of something. The difficulty is that the message of compulsory consumption (or even over-consumption) at Christmas is so ingrained in our culture, you’re seen as being odd or a penny-pinch if you don’t comply. It’s important that we remember the important thing about Christmas is our loved ones; material possessions rarely make us happy in the long-run. Often the best gift you can give is your time – being present, rather than giving presents; as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, life is short and the memories we make with our families are far more important than any physical gift we might give or receive and will stay with us the rest of our lives.

J’Accuse!

As I mentioned in my first post, minimalism is something I’ve been interested in for some years; I’ve never felt comfortable owning or being surrounded with lots of stuff. Let me state at this point however, I can by no means categorise myself as a practising minimalist. I have a collection of films and a whole host of possessions which I’ve had since I was a bachelor, which remain in the packing boxes they were put in when I first moved in with Sarah in 2010. Yep. They’ve been in there nearly 9 years, unused. Whilst we’re on the subject, my folk’s loft is still full of toys and action figures from my childhood. Think Ghostbusters & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

In Star Trek (this particular franchise will come up a lot in my blog – apologies in advance), when a person transfers to a new post, they usually have just a few possessions in their standard-issue Starfleet duffle bag, maybe a few keepsakes and that’s it. They can replicate whatever they need when they get to their destination. Whilst matter / energy conversion is still science fiction, technology has for the most part reduced the number of things or appliances we might wish to have into a single device. Take your smartphone or tablet (one more or less being a larger version of the other) – in that tiny device is a telephone, a computer, a stereo system, a television, camera, video camera, calculator etc. etc. etc. It can, for the most post, replicate virtually every piece of consumer technology that any child of my generation might wish to own, which also gives us access to virtually every piece of information ever recorded by humankind. And, in real terms, at a fraction of the cost. When my father bought his first digital calculator in the 1970s, it cost him more than a fortnight’s salary. A basic iPad will cost you around £319, reportedly not even a weeks’ average wage in the UK. Hell, a Kindle Fire 7 will cost you £50.

How we consume media has changed too – streaming or buying digital copies of films & music means that the storage units laden with whatever media format is your poison are unnecessary. And with cloud based storage, we can access this media no matter where we are on the planet (wi-fi / cellular reception permitting). I still can’t quite stop buying the physical copies however, and given they’re usually similarly priced to a digital copy, I feel like I’m somehow getting more for my money. Physical copies do have to be manufactured of course however, which has it’s own environmental cost.

Fast fashion has made clothing disposable – you can buy an item from a popular cheap high street store (made in a sweat shop somewhere in Asia, by someone who’s likely paid very little) and then throw it away (or, I hope, donate it to charity) when it’s not cool anymore. Usually after a couple of weeks. I’ve never been cool, and I always prefer quality over quantity. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t find me wearing Prada, Gucci or any other high-fashion label, but I do prefer to spend a little more on things in the hope that they last a good amount of time. I like military inspired clothing and I wear jeans and t-shirts often, which rarely go out of fashion and even if they did, I’d still like & wear them.

There’s a point to this, I promise. Modern technology, coupled with a well curated (capsule?) wardrobe, means that not only do you need less stuff, you’ll need less stuff to store the stuff in. And by extension, a smaller home to house the stuff containing the stuff. See? We’ll all be minimalists in the future; I’ll fit all my clothes, an iPad and my phone in a small(ish, think 50 litre) backpack. I’m very OCD with my things in any event; cosmetic damage really annoys me and so I really do look after them. I take time researching and almost curating my purchases before I make them. I’m obsessive about my car, Mirabeau, and I’d be devastated if she was damaged. My mistake, is treating my belongings as an extension of myself, as if they somehow reflect on me and are integral to my being. To be fair, I’d probably feel better owning much less; fewer things to worry about.

I of course haven’t come up with these ideas myself – this path has been well trodden before I ever came along and I’m not that smart – I’ve simply found value in what I’ve read, watched and listened to, published by others. If you haven’t watched it and have access to Netflix, I readily recommend the documentary “Minimalism – a Documentary about the important things” by film-maker Matt D’Avella. I’ve been reading the books of a number of people featured in the documentary (The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, Colin Wright, Patrick Rhone, Tammy Strobel at al) and watching their YouTube videos – they’re all worth your time. So, although it’s something which has been on my mind for a while, my current midlife crisis is still all their fault.

The Midway Point

After University, I worked for a well-known music, video and video games retailer in Leeds. I was 23 by this point and had both my Degree in Law and a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice, but wasn’t really sure that practicing Law was for me after all (that 4 years of study and £20,000 of debt!). I had been unceremoniously dumped by my girlfriend of the last 2 and a half (or so) years and needed something to reassure myself that I was going to get through the miserable quagmire that my life had become at that point. I worked with my (now ex) girlfriend at one store and quickly transferred to another, where I had worked during my final year of Uni and where a number of my friends still worked, in the same city.

After progressing (slightly) up the pecking order there, an opportunity presented itself; one of my oldest friends was seeing a girl from our hometown and her father was a partner in a local firm of solicitors – was I interested in completing my training there?

I sit here now, some 13 and a half years later, now a partner in that firm myself. I’m on the verge of 39 years old, have an intelligent & beautiful Wife, Sarah, a ridiculously handsome 3 and a half year old Son, Joseph (he gets his looks from his Mother) and an above average income. This is the place I thought I’d wanted to be… But now I’m not so sure. In my mid-twenties, I always felt I was behind my friends in terms of being an adult – I was single, didn’t own my own home, had no car (couldn’t drive until I was 27, although my Wife would say I still can’t) and earned what would now be more or less minimum wage as a trainee solicitor. Now that I have these material things, and am qualified, I’m not even sure I want them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t put my Wife & Son in that category!

So, the title of this, my first post on my blog, is “The Midway Point”. This is a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the fact that I am, in actual number terms, middle-aged. Both of my Grandfathers died before 80 and although I’ve got a fairer chance at entering a fifth score of years, my weight resulting from a preponderance to stuff my face with chocolate, crisps and a whole host of calorie-filled takeaways, may see me expire from heart disease at some point (better this than cancer though as it’s this foul disease which has taken away a great number of my family, so I’m rooting for something else!).

Since my Son came along (who I’m absolutely in love with; he means everything to me) I’ve felt more and more that I need to quite literally “shape up”, both physically and mentally, so that I can be with him as long as I possibly can; I was already 35 when he came along (my own father was 25 when I came into the world) and so I’ve already short-changed myself and him there. Sarah thinks I’m having a mid-life crisis (she may be right) as I’ve been watching documentaries about minimalism (which is something that I’ve been interested in for the last several years) and reading books about travel, exploring and leading a more meaningful life. I don’t particularly enjoy my job; it doesn’t leave me fulfilled nor do I feel it’s my “mission” in life to be a lawyer. Sarah, who has Degrees both in Law and Management Accountancy, has found something she loves recently in being a Slimming World Consultant. If she could make a living from it as a full-time job, she’d jump at the chance; but I’m not sure what I’d do instead of being a lawyer – my main hobby is cinema (or going to Star Trek / sci-fi conventions) and whilst I do enjoy that very much, I’m no Mark Kermode. I’ve subscribed to several YouTube channels in the last year or so and they seem very happy and able to make money from their passion (I watch Urbex channels and one or two automotive vloggers) but I’ve no idea what I’d do if I was to try and emulate that as a hobby; maybe something travel related as that is something I’ve grown to enjoy more and more. I’m also not sure what I’d do instead of my current profession, and I do have a mortgage and other bills to pay (don’t we all?!).

So, what do I intend to do about it? Well, as far as being overweight goes, I hate to run and I’d rather eat my own toenails than go to the gym. I really enjoy walking and exploring, although I rarely do much of it these days – now I have my own car (Mirabeau – I’m sure I’ll talk more about her in future) I don’t even walk the roughly 2 miles to work, although I bought her because I didn’t want my Son being cold and wet in his pushchair on the way to nursery anymore. I’ve done a few hikes in my time; in August 2016 I walked from Whitby to Scarborough to raise money for Child Bereavement UK in memory of a local lawyer who died very suddenly leaving his two young sons and wife behind. I think this was a major factor in my current thought process. He was just 40 when he died – I’m not far off that. It made me think more about how short life is and how you shouldn’t spend the relatively small amount of time we’re given on this Earth doing something that doesn’t make you feel like you’re contributing, like you’re making a difference. A quote from one of the books I’ve read recently sticks in my mind (although I may be paraphrasing, because I can’t remember which book I read it in and I can’t find the quote on Google!) – “Some people wake up in the middle of the night. Some people wake up in the middle of their lives.” That statement feels more and more like it was aimed squarely at me. Lock phasers on target. Fire!

In 2017, Sarah and I took a trip to Orlando for a week without Joseph. We each wrote him a letter in the event something happened and we didn’t come home. I still can’t read that letter without welling up. Although we came home (having spent the entire week pining for Joseph – poetic justice I think) I felt like I should record my thoughts, views and feelings on life and other topics, in the event that I don’t live long enough to guide my Son personally as he grows up; an idea of my design for life so that he can take his own view on what is / isn’t important and how he should view the world. I’m no writer and a publisher is unlikely to print a manual written by a nobody like me, aimed squarely at more or less just one person. So, the internet seems like the most logical place to make a record of my musings for him; but perhaps, other people and not just my Son, might find some utility or sense in them?

Although I own several coats, my favourite outerwear is my berry red coloured Superdry hoodie and although I’m a 39 year old legal professional, I often wear it with the hood up and my hands in the joey pockets toting my ever-present backpack. I don’t wear suits to the office and I haven’t worn a tie now in years. I’m big. I like hiking. My hood’s red. You see where I’m going.