When others have the courage

This is quite an unexpected post today – one that certainly I hadn’t intended to write or foreseen coming at all, but felt I had to publish. I’ve mentioned my friend Rick a few times in previous posts (and I’m sure I will again in future!), and you’ll recall that he and I have been friends since my second year of the LL.B, September 2000. Rick and I have very similar tastes and indeed he was born just the day after me in January 1980. I started University a year later than someone of my age should; we met owing to his predilection to skive his classes during his first year of the course in favour of hours in front of his PC playing Championship Manager (as Burnley, his hometown team of course) which resulted in his being held back and required to re-sit elements of that first year, meaning we advanced to year 2 at the same time. We also worked together at the same music, video and games retailer in Leeds when we’d graduated from Huddersfield sharing the same passion for film & music, and when I was dumped by my girlfriend in 2004, he played a major part in giving me the support and kick up the backside I needed to get back on my feet and realise that my whole life was still in front of me.

Owing to the cost of the LPC (Legal Practice Course) and the scarcity of training contracts in Leeds where he has remained, it took him a few years longer than I to complete his training and add his name to the Roll (quite literally a list of all those people in England & Wales who are qualified to practice Law as solicitors) but he managed it 5 or more years ago now. We’d both longed to practice corporate and tax Law post qualification, but alas that panned out for neither of us; I practice largely conveyancing (buying and selling properties, both residential and commercial) with Rick practicing personal injury.

Rick, H, Gav and I have been intending to meet in Huddersfield for a proper catch-up for some time now; of course we all have our owns jobs and/or businesses and both Gav and H have recently welcomed new additions to their respective families so it’s fair to say it’s been on the back-burner for a little while.

During a Messenger chat today (when it was mooted that we might finally get together in August of this year), Rick dropped a bit of a bombshell. He’s quit practicing Law and is re-training as a software developer. Boom. In an instant, I’m equally elated for and jealous of him. Despite both of us choosing Law as a career path more than 20 years ago at this point (the point of application for the courses at University), neither of us are really happy in the work owing to the stresses it puts on you and the demands of the job which cut into your free time (although more for Rick than me in terms of work/life balance – of course the demands are greater in a big City), plus neither of us have felt fulfilled by the job. It’s just that Rick has had the courage to take the plunge that I so far have not. Rick does have some of the same responsibilities as me (Wife, mortgage, etc.), although he has no children and is not self-employed so it might be a little easier for him to cut ties with the Law and pursue another path. His Wife works in the Law too, so they do have another income meaning that he is free to take the time to return to education. He’s always enjoyed computing (as I mentioned above, it caused him to re-sit his first year of his degree) and I truly hope he will find the work more meaningful. Afterall, we are all in pursuit of meaning in our lives, even if few of us manage to find our true purpose or destiny if you will. I keep coming across articles about what parents should do to raise “successful” children, and I have on many occasions been asked what I’d like Joseph to “grow up to be.” Of course, that’s up to him in the end, but my answer to that question when it is put to me? Happy. That’s it. Whatever he chooses to do for employment, I hope it fills him with joy, purpose and a sense of contributing to the World of which he is part. Living by other’s metrics of what should make us feel happy and successful is, I think, one of the contributing factors to why many of us in the West are actually unhappy, despite having the best basic standard of living experienced by any generation of human thus far.

So here’s to you Rick. You’ve been my good friend for almost half of my life and I wish you all the best for your new career. You’ve boldly gone where I fear to tread.

 

Advertisements

The best and worst day of my life

Today is my Son Joseph’s 4th Birthday. I’ve mentioned on several occasions in the past that I’d write a post dedicated solely to his birth, so today seems to be the most appropriate day to write it, on the fourth anniversary. This one is going to be tough for me and a long post, so I apologise in advance.

Growing up, I never wanted children and, to be honest, I never thought I’d be in the position where I’d be even likely to become a father. You see, to be put none too fine a point on it, I’m somewhat of a ‘unique’ individual and I’m not easy to live with. I’m not even that easy to get along with to be fair and have relatively few friends (although the friends I do have I’ve known for many years). I enjoy being in social situations, but I also enjoy my own company and often find solace in the occasional bit of solitude. I’ve never been “good” with and often feel awkward around women despite being heterosexual, and not being what you’d consider classically good-looking (and I’m quite a bit overweight!), I expected to be on my own for the majority of my life. When I returned to Scarborough to complete my legal training and rented my own place, my interest in graphic & interior design (which I studied in high school – that was by far my best subject and my only A) resurfaced and I started to read and buy books on the subject. I particularly bought books about making the most of small spaces, multi-functional furniture and modern, clean, minimalist designs (including books on Japanese architecture and interiors) – after all, when I could afford to I’d be buying on my own and so needed to design my home on the premise that I’d have limited space based on what I could afford. Then, when I least expected it a few years later (no, really – believe it or not, I was considering joining the Royal Air Force!), Sarah came back into my life and everything changed. I can’t tell you how pleased my Mother was – no-one knows you better than your parents and I think she’d too resigned herself that I might be single for most of my life.

Children weren’t at the top of our ‘to-do’ list when Sarah and I first became a couple, but when you get married, of course the subject eventually comes up. After being married for a little over a year and a half, and after much discussion, we decided that we would like to start a family of our own. I won’t lie, the thought filled me with uncertainty and trepidation – I had no idea what kind of father I’d make or whether I’d even be any good at raising a child. I’m not much of an adult myself! After 6 months of trying, we’d had no luck; that said, we weren’t obsessive about it like some couples are. By August 2014, Sarah was getting upset and wondered if there was some biological problem preventing us from conceiving. I reassured her that there was no such history in my family (indeed, most of my aunties & uncles had 3 kids each) and if it was meant to happen for us, it would happen. Sure enough, the following month the test proved positive. The first time I heard my baby’s heartbeat a few short weeks later I was filled with emotion – at that point, the fact that we were to be parents became real to me. We couldn’t decide whether we wanted to know whether baby was male or female – Sarah seemed against it as she enjoys surprises but I like to be in possession of all the facts (being OCD!) so that I can plan accordingly. We were still undecided come the 20 week scan, however baby had other ideas & shifted in the womb during the scan to show us – we were going to have a son. I can’t put into the words the feeling; I was overcome and cried in the hospital before calling my parents to tell them they had a grandson on the way (they already have three granddaughters by my Sister) and that the family name would last at least one more generation.

The hospital kept a close eye on Sarah owing to her having Coeliac disease to ensure baby was getting enough nourishment and growing properly. Sarah also has a history of blood pressure issues which they needed to monitor. The pregnancy went very well however, with no problems (except on our third trip to Orlando in February 2015 with baby in utero – we’d just had breakfast at my favourite spot Denny’s before baby did a somersault and caused Sarah to bring it all back up shortly thereafter) and a few short weeks before baby was due, Sarah went back into hospital for another checkup. Her blood pressure was unusually high, and it was decided that she’d have to stay in until baby was born and that she’d need to be induced – preeclampsia was the concern. That of course scared us both – but I began having terrible nightmares about losing both Sarah and baby and visions of burying them together, Sarah and baby eternally embracing, both dressed in white gowns.

After two failed attempts at inducing baby to be born, a third attempt was made which started to prove more positive. Sarah was taken to a delivery suite with me in tow, but after a few hours there’d been no progress. Sarah also had to have the line for the epidural installed twice as the first time failed to work. The doctors were outside at their station, monitoring whilst we were looked after by a lovely Canadian nurse. Then, it happened. Baby was struggling and his heartbeat dropped to 50bpm from over 100. Alarms sounded and suddenly the room was filled with people. Sarah was told that they’d have to perform an emergency Caesarean section otherwise baby might not survive and consent papers re the procedure were waved in front of her to sign. The operating theatre was just feet away, and whilst she was hurried in for surgery, scrubs were thrust into my hands and I was directed to a room I could change in. I’ve never changed my clothes so quickly in my life; it must have taken me less than 30 seconds before I was in the theatre too by which time Sarah, conscious and telling ME not to worry, was already being operated on. This was it. My worst fears were about to be realised and I was going to lose them. I couldn’t control my emotions and was in tears – Sarah as usual however was a rock and was comforting ME all throughout the procedure, despite being full of morphine and I’m sure very scared herself. I felt utterly useless; there was nothing I could do but put my trust in the doctors to save my future. Then, I heard him cry for the first time.

After a quick check-up following cutting the umbilical cord, my tiny baby boy was placed in my arms, swaddled in a towel. He wasn’t due for another 3 weeks (although this is still considered full-term) and weighed just 5 pounds 2 ounces. Sarah and I spoke to him to welcome him to our family – we’d brought our shortlist of potential names down to just two – Joseph or Alexander and asked him which he preferred. He seemed to respond better to Joseph and so he was named. He’d had his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and Sarah had indeed developed preeclampsia, leading to his struggle to be born. Sarah was very unwell, and whilst we were taken to an adjoining room for Sarah to recover having been closed up following the procedure, I sat with Joseph and a nurse whilst she fed him his first milk. Weighing so little and as Sarah was so unwell, he was taken to the Special Care Baby Unit, placed in a ‘hot cot’ and fed through a tube which went up his nose so that he could be fed without waking him. Looking at the pictures of him with that tube in still upsets me 4 years later.

I went home that night alone and sobbed. I’m not a religious person, but I thanked whatever deity(ies) there might be for Sarah and Joseph’s lives. The next day, I visited the hospital to find Sarah recovering from the surgery but still very weak. She had briefly seen Joseph who was in the SCBU that morning but we went to see him together as soon as I arrived. When I held my less than 24 hours old Son and fed him his milk, his tiny hand gripped my little finger and it was at that point that I knew he was the most important person in and would be the love of my life. It was several days before Sarah was well enough to have Joseph with her on the ward and nearly a week after his birth before we could take him home. I still remember the nurses clapping and cheering as we shuffled off the ward, Joseph in his brand new car seat, eager to take our Son home and have him meet his family.

My paternal Grandmother was dying of cancer when Joseph was born and had been moved to the local Hospice in Mansfield for end of life care. We were very lucky that she met Joseph twice before she died – the youngest Colley meeting the eldest. At the first meeting, she held him nearly the whole time we were there and fed him his milk. She was so proud of him and insisted on showing him off to anyone and everyone who passed by. The second time, just under a week later and closer to the end, she only managed to hold him for a few minutes. We took a couple of photos each time to show Joseph when he’s older and for posterity, even if it’s a sad reminder of my Grandmother’s passing. I know my Grandad Colley, miserable old bugger that he was, would have loved Joseph; he died in 2011, a little under 4 years before Joseph was born.

Joseph’s grown to be a clever, funny and handsome boy (he gets his looks from his Mother, with her sparkling blue eyes) but he has inherited some of my personality traits – certainly my OCD tendencies and temper. I can’t blame him for that – that’s my fault; our children inherit both the best and worst of us. All I can do is try to help him benefit from my experience to be a better person, and it certainly looks like he’s off to a good start, having lots of friends at nursery and being very popular.

So, his Birthday was both the best and worst day of my life. Sometimes, I say that the experience has left me with PTSD and I worry that it’s true. Sarah said minutes after his birth “we’re never doing that again!”, but the memory fades as the drive to have more children overrides it. I’ll admit that after that day, I’m very weary for us to have more children, even if Sarah would love to. The thought of losing her & baby and Joseph losing his Mum & sibling is just too terrible. I know that’s very selfish of me.

My Son has become the cornerstone of my existence; I think of him constantly throughout each and every day and feel the guilt of having him cared for by others whilst I spend my life doing work that doesn’t give me purpose or fulfillment. I am, for the majority of each working day, no more than 300 meters away from him at any given moment, but it breaks my heart each morning to take him to nursery, his eyes often shrink-wrapped in tears at my leaving. He’ll start primary school this coming September, although I’m very happy that it will be at our preferred school for him, where I understand some of his nursery friends will also be in attendance. Whilst I wonder at his growing and learning, part of my heart aches for the little baby boy he once was. When he’s grown and no longer needs me, I think that will be the second best and worst day of my life.

I suppose the only thing left to say is that I hope you have a very Happy Birthday Joseph, I love you with all my heart & every fibre of my being and I wish you many, many happy returns. You can talk to & confide in me about anything; there’ll be no judgement and I’ll always be in your corner. Don’t be afraid like your Daddy is and reach for the stars my Son. Don’t believe them when they tell you the sky’s the limit.

The West Riding (Hood) Walk – Friday 5th April, 2019

If you’ve read my previous post re the WRHW, you’ll be in the know as to the history behind this Urban Hike that I’ve had on my mind for the last 17 years – long before I even knew what an Urban Hike was! After collecting Sarah’s new car in Huddersfield in late January and walking a small section of the route that day, I decided that I just couldn’t put it off any longer and finally had to fulfill this long-held ambition. On 5th April, I walked from Huddersfield to the White Rose Shopping Centre in Leeds and below, I’ll take you on the Hike with me.

On Valentine’s Day 2019, after confirming with my parents that they were happy to have me, Sarah & Joseph visit for the weekend, I booked Friday 5th April away from the office and bought an advance one-way train ticket to the town where I spent 3 very special and memorable years of my life reading the subject that would later give me the base knowledge to ply my trade as a lawyer. As you well know at this point, I always like to get the best deal I can when spending my hard-earned cash and by buying the ticket in advance, I saved just over £24 – the cost of buying the ticket at the Station on the morning of travel would have been £37.60 with my advance ticket coming in at £12.80 plus a 75p booking fee. After dropping Joseph off at nursery that morning, I boarded the 08:46 train to Liverpool Lime Street, which I would depart at Huddersfield at 10:27. I like to travel light, so I packed my trusty Karrimor Urban 30 backpack (which I bought specifically for the Whitby Walk I wrote about in my 7th March post and which I now take on all my short trips – it carries my memories as well as my gear) with a couple of changes of clothes for the weekend (Ranger rolled so as to take up as little space as possible – it’s a great skill and you can learn how to do it on YouTube. I’ll never wait at an airport carousel again worrying if my luggage has made it safely and will travel only with a carry-on) together with toiletries (toothbrush, Nivea Sensitive Protect antiperspirant body spray and Fish Fingers hair wax), my iPhone and Klipsch earphones together with Lightning adapter (I listen to music whenever I travel on the train so that I don’t have to overhear other people’s conversations, plus it’s great to have Google Maps to hand on my iPhone if I’m unsure of my route. I don’t listen to music as I hike though, as I like to take in both the sights and sounds of my surroundings). I also packed my woodland camo Herschel Charlie card wallet with just my debit & credit cards in together with £20 in cash just in case. I wore my Karrimor grey convertible hiking trousers (which zip-off at the knee to convert to shorts – these are great for hiking but also for holiday travel. Karrimor is a dreaded Sports Direct owned brand, but their products are well priced and always seems to do the job), my eclipse navy Superdry Vintage Embroidered t-shirt (a staple of my wardrobe – I bought three of them to use as each one wears out and full price they were only £17), my Vans UltraRange sneakers and of course, my Big Red Hiking Hood, my berry red Superdry hoodie. Last, but by no means least, a re-usable plastic rain poncho which fits over both me and my backpack. It takes up virtually no space in my pack & has almost no weight and, given the likelihood of rain in Huddersfield, it’s a very useful thing to have with. It also keeps me much dryer than an umbrella and leaves both my hands free.

During March, I attended a legal training course in Leeds as part of my yearly Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements. It took place at the Royal Armouries at Clarence Dock and didn’t involve too much getting to and from but, having done a little walking that day and then taking the train home to Scarborough, I found myself a touch stiff and sore. This was of course concerning as I hadn’t walked anywhere near the 14 miles I’d be walking from Huddersfield to Leeds and made me realise just how out of shape I am at this point – I’d routinely walk at least 5 miles each day before I bought my car but now, I do little walking at all in the grand scheme of things. This was going to be much tougher than I thought, especially after plotting the route on Google Maps in advance and discovering that it was in actuality more than 17 miles in length with the additional “sightseeing” I was planning on doing! As a precaution, for a week or so in advance of the hike, I left the car at home and walked to work with Joseph in his pushchair in an attempt to limber up a little!

(Just a few photographs taken by me on the day – (clockwise from the top left) Huddersfield Train Station (reminiscent of the Hill Valley Clock Tower from Back to the Future don’t you think?), the view down Springdale Avenue, the Firth Street Building where I spent my 3 years reading Law, Calton Street where I lived with Rick, H & Gav in year 3, another shot of the Station and finally the Starfleet Academy section of the Campus which now houses the Architecture School).

The first order of business in Huddersfield was to stock up on hydration – I swung by the local Home Bargains in the Town centre to pick up my hiking drink of choice: Emerge Energy Drink. It tastes exactly the same as Red Bull, but is made in the UK and is a fraction of the price costing just 59p for a litre bottle. I call this “Rocket Fuel” because it’s full of sugar! I bought just one bottle as the planned route would take me past a variety of local shops where I could stop in to buy refreshments and, as I’ve said, I like to travel light.

Directly across the road from Home Bargains at the edge of the High Street (which is now far less populated since many of the chain stores relocated to the far more trendy Kingsgate Centre when it first opened in 2002) is the first road I venture down, the A62 Manchester Road leading to Springdale Avenue, where I lived in years 1 & 2 with Matt. At the top of that road, after pausing to take a picture, I turn left on to Rashcliffe Hill Road which leads me past a development of houses which has been erected in the years since I left Huddersfield (there used to be two multi-storey Local Authority managed blocks of flats on the site which have now been razed) and then briefly on to the A616 (walking past the site of Matt & my favourite curry house, The Far Pavilion, now seemingly long gone even after a name-change to Chutney Mahal) before turning right on to the B6432 Firth Street, which takes me past the Canalside Buildings at Huddersfield University to the Firth Street Building where I spent the majority of my three years (this was the part of the main campus known as Huddersfield University Business School or HUBS). This is essentially the route my walk to University took most mornings during years 1 & 2. The University Campus is much changed from my time there, due largely I suspect in no small part to the huge amount Universities now charge in tuition fees. Many of the older buildings have been replaced or augmented with large glass and steel edifices, replete with wind turbines and architectural flourishes. It reminds me now of Starfleet Academy, perhaps due to the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart was the Chancellor from 2004 to 2015. Typical that the man who portrayed Captain Jean-Luc Picard would become Chancellor at my University a couple of years after my graduation! I would have loved to accept my Law Degree from him – what a dream come true that would have been. I did meet him (albeit VERY briefly) in 2012 at a Star Trek Convention in London when I had my picture taken with him. He was very warm and pleasant but you get just a few seconds and barely any time to say more than a few words. The Buildings on Campus are now all named and on the whole it appears to be a far more up-market experience to be a student at the University in 2019. I also note that the University’s motto, “Trivium Quadrivium”, which was displayed on what was previously the Central Services building has been removed.

I cross Kingsgate and climb the steps adjoining the indoor market and after a brief mosey around the Packhorse Centre and a few other shops having traversed the Town centre High Street again (and past the now closed British Home Stores unit on Princess Street where we had many a breakfast after 9am lectures in year 3), I venture along the A62 past the Tesco Supermarket we used to frequent (and where Rick and Gav had an argument about who would pick up washing powder in our third year – something we were all able to laugh about at Rick’s Wedding reception in June 2018. They bickered about it for months at the time!) on to the A641 Northgate and underneath the Railway viaduct leading to Calton Street. This section of the route would essentially be my walk home from University after lectures etc. each day in year 3. I check that H’s Syphon Filter sticker is still in the window of our old student digs where he placed it more than 17 years ago as I pass by (and it is, although extremely faded owing to years of ultraviolet exposure but still readable). The street looks a little less decrepit and dilapidated than it did when last I visited a few years ago, but not too dissimilar to how it looked when we lived there between September 2001 and July 2002, except for a number of the houses on the streets which run perpendicular to Calton Street which have been retrofitted with large photo-voltaic solar arrays on the roofs. Whilst we lived in the house, during an argument with our Landlord at one point, H told him that the property was in such a poor state of repair that it should be condemned. We still joke about that meeting to this day. There were 4 of us living in the house but only three bedrooms; as usual I was left with the smallest room and H took the lounge as his bedroom. We did some work in the basement haphazardly plastering and painting the walls and covering the floor with cheap carpet roll-ends and the ceiling with camouflage netting. There was a sideboard we’d moved from the lounge on which we placed an old stereo and a lava lamp together with a few candles (by which Rick would once accidentally set his t-shirt alight during the year – he wasn’t injured!). We also had two old fabric couches. We referred to this room as “The Pit”. We were assisted in our efforts by Jack, Rick’s Dad who has since passed away; Jack was already in his 50’s when Rick was born and in his 70’s by the time I knew him – he was a lovely gentleman and an horologist by trade. The Pit’s crowning glory? It had a toilet in the corner (the Morgan – Cockney rhyming slang, which I’ll leave you to look up dear reader). Yes, a flushing toilet, which you could use – as long as you didn’t mind everyone else in the room watching. There was a shoddy wooden door next to the toilet which led up a small flight of stone steps to the rear yard, which we used only for hanging washing out to dry. It had a single light bulb (with no shade) and was always cold. It was also used as our makeshift film library, with stacks of VHS tapes of movies recorded from TV, on long-play, with at least 3 films to each tape, placed on the white wooden shelves which lined the walls. Although I bought my first DVD in 1999 (the 1986 film ‘The Wraith’ starring Charlie Sheen from the now long-defunct MVC – yikes, I’ve been collecting DVDs for 20 years?!) I wouldn’t be able to watch it on my own equipment (a PS2) until 2002. We had some very good times in that house; quite a few arguments too, but I’ll always look back on those 9 months fondly, even if they were extremely stressful at times with it being my and Rick’s final year of the LL.B.

Leaving behind my vivid memories of 2002, I take a couple of quick snaps of the gaff on my phone (and note the time is then 12:00) then venture right at Winlow Lane East, under the Railway Viaduct again and on to Hillhouse Lane (this was a notorious area for prostitutes when we lived on Calton Street – and before you ask, no, I never wanted “business!”) and then to Leeds Road, where I’d walk for several miles out of Huddersfield past the Odeon Cinema (where when it was a UCI, I’d first see such cinematic gems as ‘American Psycho’, ‘Dog Soldiers’ and ‘The 51st State’ to name just a few), the John Smiths Stadium (home of the Terriers, Huddersfield Town Football Club – I’m a Magpie myself and as I write they’ve just in the last few days been relegated from the English Premier League. I note with a little sadness as I pass that all the advertising of their Premier League status has already been removed from the entry to their training ground) and the ever enlarging retail park. After a few more minutes, I reach the dealership where we bought Sarah’s new car and as far as I’ve ever walked before on the WRHW route. From here, we’re into new territory. Well, on foot at least.

I stop briefly at the Land Rover dealership a couple of miles later, a short distance from the road bridge that crosses the River Calder to drool over their stock. I drive a Skoda CitiGo Monte Carlo, a tiny 59bhp 3 door city car in white with black checker foil decals,  black alloy wheels, front splitter and rear spoiler, which I call Mirabeau, so named after a corner of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix of Monaco. She is in fact Mirabeau-A, as I had another almost identical car before her which I also called Mirabeau. The A is – you’ve guessed it – a Star Trek reference to the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-A, which looked almost identical to her predecessor. She’s not at all fast but she does what she’s designed to do well, which is potter around town taking Joseph and I where we need to go. It’s quite rare we ever exceed 30mph. She was cheap to buy, cheap to tax, insure and run. An ideal second car. Whilst I love Mirabeau (or Beau for short) I’ve always fancied a Land Rover Defender however, which they no longer build (and which they have no stock of) owing to EU emission regulations and which have sky-rocketed in value as a result. Rumours have it that a new model will soon be released, but it will be a far less utilitarian design, which I feel will detract from the charm of the original vehicle. After getting back underway and crossing the River, I pass under another Railway bridge (which we call the Gouranga Bridge after a sign which was plastered across it for many years) and turn right continuing on towards Dewsbury and what will be a little over the half-way point of this walk, but would of course have been the end destination had I walked it in 2001 / 2002. It’s taken just under an hour to reach this point.

The road is now Huddersfield Road (these people really know how to name highways) the A644 which will take me all the way to Dewsbury, 6 miles distant according to a signpost I pass. It’s not the most direct route I’m taking to the White Rose Centre, but it is the easiest route to reach that destination whilst making sure I pass through Dewsbury. The way is lined mostly with residential areas, although the footpaths are quite narrow in places making it disconcerting with large goods lorries passing by within a couple of feet of me at a good speed. I pass through the town of Mirfield on my route, the birthplace of one of my heroes, the aforementioned Sir Patrick Stewart. Not the most exciting of views (and not a patch on those I encountered on the Whitby Walk, even though Mirfield is quite picturesque in parts) but the clear benefit of an Urban Hike is that you’re never too far from civilisation if things go wrong or if you need supplies. I’ve also been somewhat sneaky as this is the main bus route from Huddersfield to Leeds and if I need to, I can jump on a 202 or 203 bus to my end destination, but only as a last resort if absolutely necessary.

I originally had in mind to stop to satiate my appetite in Dewsbury at lunch, but having had no breakfast that morning, by the time I reach Mirfield town centre at 2pm I decide to pick up a sandwich at the local Tesco Express, which I dispatch as I continue on. I also drain the remains of my Rocket Fuel but have managed to pick up a bottle of my current favourite soda, Raspberry Pepsi Max from Tesco.

The route now follows quite closely the path of the River Calder, which is never more than a few hundred meters away, and over which I’d not long since crossed. It takes a further hour or so to reach Dewsbury and I find the town centre far less vibrant and populated than it was at the turn of this Century when I’d be there frequently. There are a great number of empty shop units and the McDonald’s which was once at the corner of South and Church Streets (also the location of the bus station where I’d meet my ex-girlfriend to catch the bus to her house), which I’d visited on a few past occasions, appears a distant memory. It’s now a “Big Discount Store”, although the green paint which remains visible on parts of the facade hints at its former glory. The Blockbuster Store which was opposite is also no more, replaced with a Heron Frozen Foods store after the demise of the company globally within the last few years (at the time of writing, the last remaining Blockbuster in the World is in Bend, Oregon). It’s clear that the financial crisis of 2008 has had a deep impact here (as it also has in my hometown Scarborough) and I worry it’s unlikely to recover given the general decline of the high street nationally in recent years owing to the move towards online retail.  I lament the loss of the McDonald’s and am glad I hadn’t counted on a Double Cheeseburger & Fries for lunch.

It’s now time to make the final push on to the White Rose Centre leaving Dewsbury in the rear view; this is the “new” part of the Hike, which wouldn’t have been necessary in 2002. By this point, my feet are hurting a little and I’m not ashamed to say I’m quite tired. Walking the 11 or so miles I’ve already covered on pavement has really taken its toll but having come this far, I’m determined to finish what I’ve started – as my University buddies would say, “Magnus Magnusson” (he was previously the presenter of TV game show University Challenge, where his catchphrase was “I’ve started, so I’ll finish” when a question was interrupted by the bell for the end of the round of questions). The approximately 6 or so mile route however takes me up a bloody big hill, Leeds Road A653. I’ve no idea what the gradient of the highway is and owing to the fact that there are several kinks in the road, you can’t see the top from the bottom (and vice versa) but I take it very steady and have a good pause & congratulatory swig of soda when I eventually make it to level ground. A steady supply of buses pass by me frequently and each time one does, the thought crosses my mind to halt at the next stop and wait for the next one. Nevertheless, I continue. Although the majority of the route is lined with residential properties, I’m not far from large parcels of open field land just out of view behind the houses. I note quite a few run-down and abandoned homes and a trend of large houses being converted to convenience stores. It’s not long before I make it to more built-up territory however in the form of Batley (and a familiar landmark of The Babes in the Wood pub, which unsurprisingly has also closed down) and shortly thereafter Tingley, which takes just a few hundred meters to traverse, although steadily uphill all the way.

Tingley Interchange is a very large and busy roundabout which links the adjoining suburban areas to the M62. By American standards it’s extremely tame but I’ll need to carefully navigate it to cross on to Dewsbury Road (still the A653) and the home-stretch (and, thank God, downhill) to the White Rose Centre. I specifically checked using Google Maps and Street View in advance that there were pedestrian crossings, but on arrival I find that Leeds City Council are digging them up and I have to dart across the M62 on-ramp to make it to the footpath on the alternate side of the road. Although the route to the White Rose via Birstall was shorter, I was concerned about crossing the roadways there which are far more congested given the nearby IKEA store and retail park and as it didn’t pass through Dewsbury, the way I took was far more ideal for me. Dewsbury Road is a mostly tree-lined affair with little to report on. Just a mile or two of highway to be necessarily trod.

Finally, I reach my Destination – the White Rose Shopping Centre where I worked during my Legal Practice Course at Leeds Metropolitan University in 2002 / 2003 and later in 2004, before returning back to Scarborough in April 2005 to complete my legal training. It’s been a long time coming and I am extremely pleased to have been able to complete the walk. I’ve watched quite a number of films and have read books about people who have walked long distances or made pilgrimages to help collect their thoughts and recover from difficult events in their lives, such as ‘Wild’ starring Reese Witherspoon based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, ‘Into the Wild’ starring Emile Hirsch and based on the book by John Krakauer about the life of Chris McCandless (also known as Alexander Supertramp) and ‘The Way’, a wonderful film written & directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen about a father hiking the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail with the ashes of his only son (played by Emilio), who died on the first day of attempting the pilgrimage himself. I’m also a big fan of the David Lynch film ‘The Straight Story’ based on the journey of Alvin Straight (played by the amazing Richard Farnsworth), who travelled more than 240 miles over a 6 week period on his ride-on John Deere lawnmower from Laurens, Iowa to see his brother Henry (named Lyle in the film and played by the late great Harry Dean Stanton) who had recently suffered a stroke in Blue River, Wisconsin. The thought had crossed my mind that finally undertaking this walk might dredge up some unhappy memories but I can honestly say, much to my surprise, it didn’t. I very much enjoyed my trip down Memory Lane in Huddersfield (and I now regret not spending more of my day there!) revisiting my old homes & haunts but the walk between Huddersfield and Dewsbury was such a slog, I think I would likely have only done it the once back in the day and just stuck to the train or bus!

My parents met me at the White Rose Centre a little after 5:30pm and I treated them to dinner at TGI Friday’s as a thank you in advance for looking after us all for the next couple of days.

Being on the chunky side, the part of me that is the most sore after the Hike is my thighs where my boxer shorts have dug in and rubbed together as I walk. My trusty Vans UltraRange sneakers have prevented any blisters to my feet, but as always seems to happen with mesh sneakers, my big toes have already started to wear a hole in the interior lining of each shoe!

Part of this Hike has clearly been to fulfill one of the last remaining regrets of that part of my life, as well as reminiscing what was an extremely important time for me. Part of me will always remain in Huddersfield and it’s rare that Sarah & I don’t spend some time there in some capacity each year, but I’m glad that the WRHW ghost has finally, after 17 long years, been laid to rest.

 

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.

 

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.