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.

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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 was 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.

Origin; Part 1

Maya Angelou once said “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been”. I started this blog as a way of speaking to my Son Joseph from beyond the grave in the event that I don’t live long enough to guide him as he grows to being the brilliant man I know he will become. I know where he came from, even if I don’t yet know where he’s going; I was the first person to hold him (after the nurses who cleaned him up and swaddled him) when he was born (I’ll tackle that day in another post!) and he’s certainly inherited some of my traits – my wonky ears, my predilection towards OCD type behaviour and my loud voice – but he’ll likely know very little about where I came from if I’m not there to tell him. I don’t know about you, but I love a good origin story.

I was born in January 1980, the second child of my parents and their only son. My parents had met and married when they were teenagers – my Mum 18 and Dad 19. My paternal grandparents, both now deceased, didn’t approve of the union and gave the marriage 6 months. I loved him and he had a very dry wit, but my Grandad Colley was a miserable old bastard who thought he knew everything. It’s a trait all we Colley men inherit. I’m happy to say he was wrong and they’re still together as I write.

I was lucky to be born, however. You see, medical technology has advanced hugely in the last 40 years and at the time I was in utero, a test performed at the hospital said I would likely be born with the condition spina bifida, and they recommend termination. This was of course a massive and potentially heartbreaking decision for my parents, but given you’re reading this you know the outcome. Spoilers. I don’t have spina bifida by the way. My sister is 20 months older than me and is a registered professional nurse working for a private healthcare company. She has 3 kids, all girls, all spoiled millennial little shits who don’t recognise how lucky they are to be alive at this time and who can’t possibly comprehend how anybody did anything or even lived without a cellphone or the internet. My sister is going through a difficult divorce from her husband of 18 years (they’ve been together since they were teenagers, too) and my nieces talk to their mother like they’ve just scraped her off their shoes (which enrages Sarah), but I’m getting sidetracked.

My folks lived in Mansfield, the town they were both born in, too, in the little 3 bed house they’d managed to buy not too long after they’d married in the area known as Mansfield Woodhouse. It wasn’t much, but it was always clean, warm and comfortable. It’s hard to imagine now, but we didn’t have a phone (or a car until 1986, when my Dad bought a used Vauxhall Magnum when he passed his test). We did however have a good sized rear garden complete with a swing, and there was a public playground directly behind the house. I had two friends who lived on the same street; Robert and Wayne who were a similar age. We’d play on the street or around our houses all day and watch films on my parents’ top-loading VHS recorder in an evening if we’d rented a film from the local video shop. Film has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember.

My parents worked day and night (Dad day as an engineer and Mum night at the local bingo hall and later stocking factory and Co-op Supermarket) to keep the roof over our heads and food on the table. I don’t ever remember going without anything, however my Dad would many years later lament stories of desperately checking the sofa cushions for loose change to pay for food or utilities. Occasionally they had to miss a payment on their mortgage to get by. He once found a £5 note when searching the sofa which was apparently like Christmas. He did however manage to escape the fate which befell the majority of males on both sides of my family; the horror of working the coal face down the pit.

Mansfield is one of the oldest towns in the UK, even appearing in the Domesday Book of 1086. Coal mining was the main industry of the town when I was born and, if you were from a poor family (both sides of my family are working class, my parents from families with 5 (Dad, eldest) or 6 (Mum, eldest again) kids who had very little), you were more or less destined to that employment as a male. By 1984 however, the then Conservative Government began closing the pits and my family had to retrain in other fields. It was for the best for them personally in any event as they’re all better off as a result and doing work which is unlikely to place them in mortal danger. It also meant it wasn’t a reality I’d ever have to face. Although I’m of course glad of this, the fact that my family were safer and not engaged in an industry I abhor (renewables are where it’s at, this is the 21st Century), I’m sorry to report that the town itself has never really recovered.

I started at the local Church of England Primary School the September before my 5th birthday, as we all do in the UK. I wasn’t a good student. I didn’t seem to do well at anything and I even vaguely recall comments from my teacher Mr. Scott at the age of 6 or 7 that I was useless and would amount to nothing. You know what? Had I have stayed in that town as the majority of my family did, I think he’d have been right.

The Christmas Experiment: The Results!

Christmas day is nearly done; just a few days remain until we sing 2018 to its sleep and consign the events thereof to the annals of history.

I planned my Christmas experiment with consent from Sarah (who usually humours me with my silly ideas / experiments) on the basis that we’d spend just our Nectar Points accrued to date (£60) and a £20 Gift Card for Marks & Spencer to buy gifts and food for the day (please do refer back to my earlier post for more details on the “cheat” I employed to make this work in practice). So, was the experiment a success? Short Answer? Yes. Sarah spent the £10 allocated to my gift by buying me one of my favourite films, Hackers, newly released on Blu-ray for £9.99 with free shipping from Amazon as Prime members. I overspent a little on her (not by much – hey, my game, my rules!) in buying her the new Lean in 15 Veggie cook book by Joe Wicks for £8.49, again from Amazon together with a small bouquet of flowers (£2.99), so just £11.48 in total.

For Joseph, we did spend more than the allotted £10 as we bought him a toy which cost £34.99 again from Amazon, who had the best price online at the time of ordering. It was something he’d been asking for for weeks but as a larger toy it was the kind of gift we’d only ever consider buying for Christmas or his birthday. I did check the local toy shops before buying online but it wasn’t in stock and on checking eBay, I did see that this particular toy was being sold new & boxed at above retail price by some unscrupulous people. We did however manage to sell some of Joseph’s old toys for a total of £50 and so this more than paid for the toy itself – we put the balance into his bank account for future purchases.

All told then, the figures work out thusly (running total in brackets):-

Andy’s gift: £9.99;

Sarah’s gifts: £11.48 (21.47);

Joseph’s gift: £34.99 (£56.46);

Bottle of Martini Asti: £6.50 (£62.96);

Food spend: £25.29 (£88.25)

LESS £35 from selling Joseph’s old toys: £53.25 TOTAL.

There’s lots of turkey, cheese and mince pies left too, so you could say that the actual spend for the day itself on food was even less, as the balance will be used up in the next couple of days.

Whilst some people will think we’ve been Scrooges at this time of year, we simply don’t see the need to spend money for the sake of it, because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do at Christmas. Joseph still had 15 gifts to open including one from my friend Miles, to whom in turn I gave the bottle of Moet that Sarah and I wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. We much prefer Martini Asti, a bottle of which is detailed in the spend list above. Joseph played with his toy from us all day and though he did play with the others too, his “big” present was his favourite. Had he not received anything else, I don’t think he would’ve batted an eyelid.

It’s important to remember that all said and done, Christmas Day is just that; one day out of 365. It’s unnecessary to go overboard, especially if that means going into debt as a result. The day also felt far less stressful.

Sarah and I do have prior form dealing with spends for “one day” events – when we married, we simply flew to Las Vegas on our own having planned & booked everything in advance (it was just 10 weeks between our engagement and Wedding and no, we weren’t married by Elvis). Our whole Wedding cost less than £5,000 including the Honeymoon 10 night stay at the Luxor in Vegas (which was in the region of £1,600 – we married in their Chapel) our Wedding rings and everything else including the photographer (and their expensive prints!) and spending money. I will add however that Sarah’s dress was bought by her Mum (£500) and the wedding ceremony was a gift from her Father (£300 approx). It was too much to ask that people came with us (we have a DVD of the ceremony which lasted sub 7 minutes – I cried pretty much the whole time!) and as such, we did everything our way with the minimum of fuss.

Now, let me finish this post off by saying that I’m not trying to preach, just offer an alternative to the commercialised narrative that we’re exposed to each year around the festive period. Christmas should be about our loved ones, family time and being present, rather than giving them. If you celebrate it, I hope you had a wonderful & Merry Christmas.

The Five Year Mission

I appreciate that Christmas has not yet passed (I will write a post about how our Christmas experiment went a few days post the day itself), however soon thoughts will start to turn to the 2nd day of January 2019 when I’ll return to my office having (I’m certain) very much enjoyed the break with Sarah, Joseph and my family and with the whole of the year ahead of us. New Years resolutions are something that many people consider – some will see them through whilst others may fall by the wayside. I make it a rule in my life never to make promises I can’t (or don’t intend to) keep, not to myself and not to others (especially my Son). Disappointment is something which I’ve never enjoyed and honestly dealt with very poorly in the past – managing expectations is something that is vital in this modern world where so many people aspire towards perfection and have little to no patience. On a side note, I used to be a “perfectionist” myself, but as I grow older I appreciate more and more that perfection is a concept not based in reality. Nothing, nor no-one, is perfect. All we can strive to be is excellent – that’s the best I believe anyone can ever hope to achieve.

I don’t enjoy running (I KNOW I’ve mentioned this before!) and going to the gym is not something I’d really ever enjoy. Walking long distances is something we as human beings are built to do – running long distances only results in needing knee replacements at 40 (this I know; a former colleague of mine is living proof) and our ability to run or sprint – human beings are the fastest accelerating animal from a standing start to full speed on the planet – was an evolutionary tool designed to get us away from the predator that fancied us as their next meal and up the nearest tree / mountain / etc. to safety. Hence, I’ll run if I’m being chased or there is risk of mortal danger to me or my loved ones and not usually otherwise. So, making resolutions about going to the gym to become more svelte are pointless for me. I do intend to hike more this year however so do watch this space. I’ll certainly try to figure out how to upload pictures to my posts and improve the look of the site.

My work is something that I do to live and it’s not my “mission” in life to be a lawyer. I have bills to pay and a family to take care of and for that, money must be made / earned. I read law at University and after practicing all these years post qualification, admittedly, it’s all I really know how to do. Perhaps then, if I can’t have a career change, the key is to work for a shorter period of time; to spend less or make my money work for me in order that I can leave work behind as early as possible and enjoy as much time with Sarah and Joseph as I can (working SMART, not HARD). Most people, certainly in the UK, work until they’re 65 at which point they can afford to stop and rely on an income from whatever private arrangements or investments they’ve made together with the State Pension (£129.95 per week as I write this, subject to contributions over 30 years of work). With life expectancy above that of my forebears however, I’m expected to work until 68 before being able to draw the State Pension. Neither of my Grandfathers reached 80 and that would mean that after 45 years of exchanging most of my time (read life) for money, I might have just 12 years left to enjoy not having to be anywhere or do anything other than what I want to do. At that age, I’d be older, less able to explore the world and enjoy myself, possibly beginning to show signs of whatever illness will eventually get the better of me and cause my inevitable departure from this mortal coil. Now that’s a very sobering thought. My first reaction? F**k that!

In his book Enough, author Patrick Rhone argues that whilst you might not have control over how much money you make, you DO have control over how much you spend. By living a simpler life and spending your money wisely, being frugal and intentional with your purchases, you can afford to work less and enjoy your life more by doing what matters to you most. What you love. If you’re one of those people who love your job – for whom it’s not actually ‘work’ – I envy you greatly and wish you every future happiness. Of course I’m by no means perfect and I do enjoy buying sneakers and have an affinity for backpacks. We’re talking relatively affordable brands here however, such as Nike or Adidas sneakers (the Vans I referred to last post are awesome however) with either Herschel Supply Co. (most likely woodland camo) or Superdry backpacks. It would be extremely rare that I’d now covet brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci – you’re paying simply for the brand name and social currency. I’ve no interest in that. I also always try to find the best price I can – I’m not opposed to spending money as long as I’m being intentional with my purchase and not paying “over the odds”.

So, “The Five Year Mission”. Thus named for 2 reasons: 1). “Five Year Plan” has terrible 20th Century fascist connotations. I abhor fascism (and am greatly concerned by the signs of it’s 21st Century resurgence). 2). It’s a Star Trek reference. Did I mention I love Star Trek? That explained, what is it? Simply put, a plan to escape from the bonds of debt within that time frame so that we can begin to plan for our early retirement in earnest. Debt, for the purposes of this Mission includes my car loan for Mirabeau, my and Sarah’s Student loans and our mortgage. In Britain it’s considered rude to talk about money and so I won’t discuss figures or disclose our incomes, but I do hope that we will be able to do it within that period. Indeed, we do have sufficient savings to completely repay the car & student loans immediately together with some of our mortgage, although of course it’s always prudent to keep some savings for the unexpected. It’s not possible to make safe investments which will pay a higher return than the lowest rate of interest we pay on our debt (the mortgage) without significant risk to the capital and that’s not something we want to get involved in. We don’t want to buy more property / real estate as in our opinion, that simply prevents people getting on the housing ladder and prices them out of the market. No, we’ll pay what we owe and then cross that investment bridge when we come to it. Whilst speaking to my friend Miles, who has been having similar  thoughts, we settled on 55 as a reasonable target so that we have time to pay down the debt and then save enough to (hopefully) comfortably retire on. I’m 39 on 29th January, so that would leave me just 16 years and mean that I’d have put in the 30 years of tax contributions to qualify for the State Pension when / if I make it to 68, if it still exists at that point.

So for all intents and purposes, that is our New Year’s resolution for 2019 and for the following 4 years. To clear our debts with a view to escaping from the rat-race as soon as we possibly can to enjoy our lives doing what we love. Now, that said, it doesn’t mean we will become recluses and not spend money at all – it just means that we will be intentional with our purchases and seek out good deals, as I have said. If we do “splash out” on anything, it’ll likely be home improvements to make our house more comfortable or work better (by extension meaning that we won’t have to worry about moving to a larger or more costly home) or on holidays (read vacations, my American friends) as spending money on acquiring experiences rather than stuff is something I’m all for.

It’s all about being happy in your life and on that note, I wish anyone reading this post all the best for a very happy and prosperous 2019.

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!