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The long awaited final day of term, a weeks holiday is upon us finally, but what a strange way to end the week. All the staff were called into a meeting at lunchtime, a rare occasion as its so disruptive to the kids lunchtime, we usually have any important meetings straight after work, so I knew this was going to be significant. Our head is very aware of how fast gossip and rumours can spread, and so took the decision to avoid that by not waiting until the end of the day. It turns out that one of our colleagues hadn’t turned in for work today, and for whatever reason, the head had gone out to visit him, only to find his body at his home and that he’d passed away in his sleep. He was only a few years older than myself. I’d never worked with him directly, but I’d known him for not far off 20 years, he started working at the school before even I joined. It was such a shock that I think most people didn’t even take it in straightaway. A very sad way to end the term, especially those of us there that have been at the school for a number of years, when the team was much smaller and closer. I know he lived alone and I’m not sure if he had much family, but my thoughts are with them. He was one of those nice guys at work that even if you didn’t know him well, you knew that no-one had a bad word to say about him.

We finished the rest of the day, all the while feeling grateful for my own health and all I had at home with my wife and daughter around me. Eventually it was time to go home, and I noticed a few spots of rain on the window, nothing to be too concerned about, so with my waterproof gear on I set off for home on my bike and could never have prepared myself for what happened next… the heavens quite literally opened and I have never seen rain like it, let alone been out in it or even attempt to cycle through it. Just a mere 10 minutes later and the roads were beginning to flood and traffic was slowing down as a result. It felt like an entire days rain had come down in just 10 minutes, and I could not have been any wetter if I’d swam home along the canal! The waterproofs I’d worn were a jacket and hat, and at least they did their job, but from the waste down, it was like I had been wading through a river! I was so glad to be home safely and changed into dry clothes. The mother in law had been looking after Olivia and usually brings her home before I get back and waits, although today she’d stayed at her own house with Olivia not surprisingly, so once I was dry I went to collect her in the car and stopped for a lovely hot cup of tea, which was like elixir from the gods after the soggy and cold ride home!

The evening was a rare night out for myself with a few friends from work, at an indian restaurant, Akbars on the Hagley Road. Known for its lavish interior and looking a bit like a palace from the outside, it gives the impression of high quality, fine cuisine… sadly this couldn’t be much further from the truth. About 10 of us met up and had a pleasant evening together catching up, although it was never going to be a late night. We headed our separate ways about 9:30pm, some heading into town, and some heading home. I was glad to be home in time to see Clare before she headed to bed, and open a couple of beers before I turned in myself to try and get some sleep ahead of tomorrow mornings run.

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Happy Diwali everyone! Yes I like to make sure all of my audience is welcomed, even if it is actually only small, and possibly limited to the wife and my sister!

I am feeling much more positive today, even though it was a late night last night that I really didn’t need, I have still been feeling more like my old self. I definitely think that finally working out why I have been feeling a bit down has actually helped me get over it, when I wrongly thought that it was just me pushing myself too much, and not having enough down time.

I picked today’s photo as we now have a new phase with Olivia where she is totally unsupported in the bath! I do miss those days of filling up her baby bath and washing her in the living room, but she continues to grow and there appears to be no way of stopping it! Guess we just have to accept it!

In the news yet again today has been Tesco and their diabolical financial shambles, a company that appears not only to be having troubles, but literally nosediving in flames! It’s had some impact on me as I used to work with them and invested in shares,mad well as being given free ones when I joined. I couldn’t touch them for five years, which expired this year, and the £1400 I was hoping to make out of it, that was always going to pay for a nice holiday, is now looking like I’d be expecting around just £500 if I was to cash them in. To say I’m gutted is an understatement. It’s the only chance of a holiday we stood to see for a while! If I ignore the shares side of it, the whole ordeal has made me laugh, as working for Tesco was a total nightmare, to see the mighty fall, knowing all the people who made my life a misery are now the ones starting to sweat a bit makes me feel a bit better about it all. It truly was an awful time working for such a giant, and the whole ethos of the company is all wrong. They make out what a friendly company they are, and how great it is to work there, but I can only liken it to how it must feel to be in prison, except with wages! The stress I was under on a daily basis was on another level, the expectations of what I should be achieving each day were ridiculous, I was just a number, no more, and totally expendable, and this was made very clear, on top of which the working hours went out of the window once you’d shown signs of wanting to progress in the company, promises were often empty, and you were only ever noticed when you did something wrong. I started my career off with boundless enthusiasm, but the company slowly beat it out of me until I was eventually a shadow of my former self with no passion left, and it was all I could do to turn up on time! In the last few months before I left the company, I would park my car up and take my time getting out as I could feel my stomach start to knot up as I eventually walked across the car park. Each time I’d hear my name on the tannoy I’d get a nauseous feeling wash over me in case I’d done something wrong again. I was tired of having just justify myself to people all the time. When the demands came in to work nights and unpaid Sunday’s I knew my time was up with Tesco, I was getting out one way or another, that much was for sure. I was tired of the bullying, I was tired of the politics, tired of my face not fitting, tired of working essentially the corporate hours of some office big shot for what was barely minimum wage, I was tired of being given 12 hours worth of work for a 9 hour shift (where I should have only been working 7.5hrs once I’d taken breaks out!), tired of not being able to trust anyone around me who would happily see me suffer to aid their own progression. It was no life, but that’s what it needed to be, if I was going to get anywhere I needed to live and breath Tesco… And I just couldn’t do it. I’d seen how they would track people down and sack them for any number of small reasons just because they didn’t like them. I knew they’d come gunning for me one day! Getting out was the best thing I ever did, and my life has improved beyond measure since leaving, but now I can look back at them and think “this is what you get for being so greedy and malicious!”.

I’ve moved on and life is great now, but is just like to say… screw you, Tesco!

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There are few things that can make me smile and raise my spirits quite like this little lady can, she’s like a magic elixir for all of lifes little problems, and she just seems to get more adorable by the day! When I got married there was only one lady in my life, my number one, my best friend, and it kinda goes without saying really. Its why we get married, and if you don’t feel that way once you’re married, then I’m pretty certain that you’ve probably made a bad decision and married the wrong person! Over the years I had a few long term relationships, but looking back I never really worked out why… I never saw any kind of future with any of them at all, there were always too many incompatibilities, and never enough compromise, if anything they were only long term out of habit and the fear of what I’d do next if they were over! Ridiculous when you think about it really, I should have had the fear of wasting my life away by being with the wrong person rather than where I’d end up living in the short term. I guess not having a lot of money played a part, if I could have afforded to just get up and walk out without considering the financial implications, I think I may not have wasted quite so much time! But thats all just academic now, the what ifs will never change anything, and I guess at the time I was just rolling the dice to see where it would take me, not wanting to be seen as a quitter, not wanting the failure of the relationship to be blamed on me. I began to wonder if it was just me, in all my failed relationships there was one universal factor… me! Maybe I just wasn’t very good at this kind of thing? Some girls wanted a bad boy, some girls wanted a dominant guy… I was just a nice guy, and I’d kinda heard that nice guys finish last! I was beginning to believe it, and wonder if there was any place in the world for a nice guy at all, and then I met my wonderful wife… although at the time I didn’t know she’d be my wife, but I knew from the second I met her that something about her was different!

Then, once we were married, along came Olivia, and my priorities shifted. I had a new number one, and so did Clare, it was no secret, we’d both taken second place from hereon in! A very solid second place I’d like to add, no wishy-washy “oh are you still here?” kinda second place! It was something I had heard would happen, and I never quite knew when it was going to hit. All through the pregnancy I didn’t feel it. When we went for the scans and saw her, I didn’t feel it. Even reading all the books and knowing exactly what I should be doing when she got here, I didn’t feel it. I wondered if I had should have felt some kind of connection with the baby before she was born? Was this normal to not feel anything? Well, apparently it was, and the second she arrived things changed. From the moment I held her in my arms and saw how fragile she was and how totally dependent on us she was, I was suddenly her protector, and she was the most important thing in the world to me! That thunderbolt I’d been waiting for had hit!

She is what I need on days like today, when I am not feeling quite so energetic, when I don’t really have the patience or tolerance that I know I should have. I’ve had this for a few weeks now, when I am feeling fed up with most things, like everything is very quickly and easily getting on top of me. I thought maybe I was just doing too much and not leaving enough time for myself, and so tried to slow down a little, put a few things on hold here and there, but it hasn’t made a difference. I think this is where my lack of passion for the jujitsu is coming from, and I was thinking maybe taking a few weeks off may help. What I think it is actually down to is one of those frowned upon “invisible” things that a lot of people don’t even believe exists, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I haven’t had this for a few years, but I did used to get it each year, around this time, late October going into November, and I recognise the symptoms. When I initially told Clare she just looked at me like I’d told her I suddenly wanted to be known only as Peter Pan, not the reaction I’d hoped for, but not a surprise, as I said, a lot of people don’t really take it seriously. When I say seriously, I don’t mean “handle me with kid gloves or I might die!”, I just mean actually believing its a thing at all. But to me, it all suddenly makes a lot more sense as to why I have been feeling like I have for the last couple of weeks, not that it changes how I actually feel, but at least it answers WHY I have been feeling like this. Sure, I could do to the doctors, but there is no guarantee that they will take it any more seriously than Clare did, and to be honest, I don’t really care much for doctors to just be dismissing me and telling me to get over it. I don’t have a huge amount of faith in them and their diagnoses anyway, from personal experience. I know what I have will pass eventually, and I just need to do what I can to work around it, to recognise when I am having a bad day, and try to push through it as best I can! As long as it doesn’t get any worse than this, then I should be fine. As long as my beautiful little daughter is there to add a little sunshine to my day and my wife is by my side, then my day will be a good one!

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The storm has arrived today, as predicted, and boy am I glad I’d decided to take the car this morning, very unsafe weather for cycling in today. With a lack of cycling lanes on my route in and out of work, there is ample opportunity to get blown off my bike by a strong gust, into the path of bus or lorry, of which there are plenty on my journey, not to mention all the cars that don’t feel like they need to give me any room as they pass!

The weather seemed to step up a gear as I came out of work, the rain was literally going sideways and the wind was just stripping the trees of their leaves. If I’d been on the bike, I’d have probably had to consider walking at this point. Strangely enough, five minutes later, it was no more than breezy with blue sky and sunshine again. I was just keeping my fingers crossed it all settled down for the morning so that I could get back on the bike again.

I’d forgotten that Clare was finishing work early, so it was a nice surprise to get home and have her already there. She had taken the decision to finish an hour early as she’d not slept well the night before as Olivia had been up again, as she regularly seems to be lately, and as the baby monitor is on her side of the bed I’d slept through it. Clare had left it to me to collect from Olivia from nursery this afternoon, as she knows how much I love to pick her up at the end of my day, and also because of jujitsu on a Tuesday night meaning that I don’t get to see her for very long before I go out, as she’ll be in bed long before I get home. The jujitsu is still bothering me a bit, I still enjoy it, but it has been four years that I’ve been training there for now, and I’m not sure if it’s just a temporary thing, but I feel like I’ve lost the passion for it a bit lately. It’s more time spent travelling to the centre than it is time actually spent training there, although it probably wouldn’t annoy me so much if Olivia was already in bed when I left, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on time with her. Still, at the end of the day I have to remember that it is only one evening, and I do otherwise get to spend plenty of time with her. I’m giving the training until Christmas, and if I haven’t got some of the passion back then I might consider giving it up!

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It comes to something when you need a holiday to get over the weekend, but this weekend was all worth it. I enjoyed the half marathon and managed to raise a nice little sum of cash for charity, that I had no intention of raising three weeks ago because I hadn’t entered and didn’t know if I was going to.

At least now we’re on the final week before the holiday, a week off, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for at least one day where I can catch up on a bit of sleep, although I know my chances are slim. For today though, all I could think about was my poor, stiff achey legs. I’m pretty sure I’ve run half marathons and cycled to work the day after before now, but today… nothing! My legs were far too stiff and aching to even consider pedalling today. I really wanted to, but it was never going to happen today, my legs just couldn’t take it! It was such a shame too, it was perfect cycling weather, a lovely mild and dry morning, the sort of morning that you always hope for as a cyclist! I know that tomorrow morning is set to be a very different scenario with hurricane Gonzalo drifting in from the Atlantic, threatening to cause chaos around the UK during rush hour. We may not even see much of it here in the Midlands, as it sounds like the worst of it will be restricted to coastal areas, but we just never know until it gets here, although as I type this, the rain is starting to fall outside and the trees are beginning to sway slightly in the wind! Either way, I’ll need to think about how I’m going to get into work in the morning, although it does look likely that in the interests of safety I won’t be taking the bike. For some reason Tuesdays always seem to be significantly busier than any other day, and if I am taking the car then I will need to leave much earlier to avoid the traffic problems. The bike is a much more preferable option, as no matter how busy the roads are, it never affects my journey time, but if it’s going to be as windy as they say it will, then I’d rather get there alive and late, than not at all!

This evening we had the pleasure of my friend Gareth turning up to collect his wedding photos on DVD, and it was good to catch up with him. One of life’s genuinely nice guys who I don’t get to see very often now he has changed jobs. It is one thing that does frustrate me a great deal, not being able to catch up with friends as often as I’d like to. Some people we don’t see for month after month until eventually we have to start counting it in years. We have had some lovely evenings with friends over the years , food and wine and not worrying about the time, and it’s a bit sad to know that we won’t be able to repeat some of those now, as we’ve all become parents since, and so meeting up now takes a new form, such as lunch or afternoons at the park. As fortunate as we are that we have some baby sitting options, not everybody is so lucky. Next week is going to be a strange one, as we both have time off work, and yet Olivia still has her nursery days, so on one day I’ll be on my own and on another day it’ll be just myself and Clare, and the dilemma of what to do with a whole day to ourselves? Of course, we don’t have to take her into nursery that day, but she does love it there, and we’re paying for it anyway, so we may as well make the most of it! Maybe a little Christmas shopping? Who am I kidding? All my Christmas shopping is going to be done online… “Hello Amazon, yes that’s right, I’m lazy, bring everything to my door!”.

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Race day! Its here! My training was nowhere near enough, but it was too late to worry about it now. I woke up feeling good, and had my to-do checklist to tick off, which was a pretty exclusive list as I don’t like to leave things to chance on race day, it even included what I was having for breakfast and what time I needed to eat it by, so that toilet calls don’t become an issue half way through the run. I was very prepared for the run in terms of things I needed to remember on the morning, I just wish I’d put in a bit more training. Initially I was coaching a friend of mine to complete her first half marathon, having only ever done a 10k race before, the half marathon is a very different beast. We took to my favourite haunt for running, the reservoir and practised week after week, but with a very tight deadline we were only focused on the distance, and we didn’t have any time to do much work on the speed. At the end of the day, she had exactly the same goal on her first half marathon that I did… to get to the end and finish it! So on that note, the only goal we really had to worry about was the distance anyway, as the speed work wasn’t too much of an issue. With everything ready I headed out and parked the car in a place where I wouldn’t get stuck when it was time to leave, and made the walk down Broad St towards the start line, although I did turn it into a bit of a jog to warm myself up a little. Talking of weather, the sky was blue and the sun was shining, this was all rather unexpected, as the weather app on my phone had previously been suggesting showers for today when I checked it earlier in the week, and even heavy rain at one point!

When the glaxon finally went off and it was time to cross the start line, everyone shoots off at great speed and there is an instinct to keep up with them, and get swept away in the excitement. I knew to hold back, and knew that I’d be seeing some of these people again very soon as I passed them walking or hobbling along a little further down the road… which I did! The runners started to thin out a bit and it all became a little easier then, when you aren’t tripping over the person in front of you. I was still warming up by mile 2 and by mile 3 I could feel that I was getting into a bit more of a rhythm. although at mile 4 they had adjusted the course slightly and added a new hill to it… you know, just in case it wasn’t hilly or challenging enough already! We reached Cadbury World and went around it to head back down the Pershore Rd passing the 7 mile marker on the way and feeling good that I was over halfway. I could feel the legs starting to get a little tired by this point. We passed through Cannon Hill Park and were onto mile 9 by this point, this is where I started to really struggle last year, but this time around I was feeling hugely motivated by the fact that there was only 4 miles left! Before I knew it we were at mile 10 and the uphill stretch started here, it was only a slight uphill, but it felt like everest, and we still had what is known amongst runners as “cardiac hill” to get up yet, this lasts for over a mile and will break any runner who doesnt have a a will of steel to survive! Finally the roads started to level out and I was at mile 12, spurred on hugely by the encouragement of the crowd. They really were a fantastic bunch of people, handing out Jelly Babies (great for a sugar boost when you need it!), handing out water and putting on music, either live or in a band, as well as churches opening up their doors so people could use the toilets if they needed to. The crowd really were wonderful and to have a stranger call you by name (as its on the front of your shirt!) and shout encouraging words with big smiles and maybe a little fist pump, it feels great! Even the kids were getting into it high fiving the runners on the way past. Just brilliant! I wanted to make a dash for the finish line at mile 12, I’d done it before and knew it was possible, but my legs were empty, they had nothing left in them, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other and keep going! Crossing that finish line was a fantastic feeling, although I did feel especially sorry for the people who hadn’t made it, and were being seen by medics, sat down on the floor, on the final stretch, and one poor girl who was literally being dragged across the line by her two partners, I caught her face and she literally looked like she was about to die, there and then, on the spot. I picked up my winners bag, including the all important tshirt and medal, then set off for home, where I was greeted by the biggest hug ever from my daughter, it was fantastic. The wife had put an amazing dinner together and then we sat down to rest a little and enjoy a quiet evening together.

Man, I am ready for my bed now!! Damn you Monday morning for sitting there and taunting me, yes I know the weekend is over!

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The pre-race day is here and its time to make sure that I am all ready for tomorrow mornings half marathon. Today and yesterday were about one thing, resting, which is equally as important as the training I have put in. I need to make sure the muscles in my legs are storing as much energy as possible. I even had a really good nights sleep last night, even though I went to bed a little later than I’d planned and probably should have only had the two beers instead of the four, but thankfully it looks like Olivia has got back into the habit of sleeping through again, and even slept until 8am which is a very rare treat for us, so I felt pretty good when I got up this morning!

An early morning text meant my assistance was required on the allotment today, and I couldn’t really say no as it was something me and my friend Dave had taken on together, but that he ends up doing most of the work on, although this is primarily because the allotment actually backs onto the bottom of his garden. He frequently pops over for 20 minutes here and there during the week, whereas I have to arrange to meet him there at the weekend as I don’t have a key to get into it. He doesn’t mind, its all worked pretty well so far, except that I keep saying I need to commit more time over there, and I do fully intend to, but it doesn’t always work out that way, with so many other things eating away at my time. Dave is currently doing the Sober For October thing, and so we’ll soon be heading back to the pub once that is over to sit down and plan what we’re going to be doing on the allotment next year. We have tended to wing it so far with a lot of things, and had some success here and there, but I think that with a bit more structure and a bit of a plan, we can actually get more out of it.

I stayed over the allotment longer than I had planned, although Dave’s wife did kindly bring us a McDonalds lunch halfway through. I felt a bit guilty eating a burger, as its probably the kind of food I should stay away from the day before a big run, but I was still very grateful for it! I walked home and in letting Clare know that I was on the way, as its only a five minute walk between the two houses, I was greeted by a wonderful beaming smile from Olivia who was standing at the window waiting for me. There is no better way to come home than to a treat like that. Our little girl is growing so fast, and has no proved to us that most things are no longer “out of reach” for her, as she demonstrated by pulling the remote controls down from their previous safe spot on top of the fire place, and also found my wallet, which proved to be a source of great interest to her!
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She has also shown us that she no longer needs us to give her a bottle of milk any more. Apparently mommy and daddy are surplus to requirements now!
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That was our last little link to her being a baby, the need to be given a bottle before her morning nap and before bed in the evening. Now she just gives herself the bottle. Its a very new thing, and if we even touch the bottle because she’s not getting any milk out of it, then she lets go and it becomes our problem again! But yes, we are seeing so many changes, on an almost daily basis now, it both excites me and makes me a bit sad inside all at the same time that our girl is no longer a baby. I can’t help but think what the next month will bring, and then what will she be doing by christmas, what will be happening in 12 months time? I still can’t help but look at her and wonder what she’ll look like as an adult. I see adults now, look at their baby photos and you can always see the likeness, but I can’t even begin to imagine what our little girl will look like as a teenager, or an adult. I just hope we instil all the right ideals and principles in her to make her a good person when she’s older. This parenting malarky is fairly easy at first, all you have to do is feed them, keep them clean, and generally don’t drop them. As they get older you start to consider the bigger implications of what lies ahead, and the seeds that you are planting… planting unwittingly just by the things you say and the things they see you do. For example, I have suddenly become acutely aware of the amount of time I spend on my phone while I am around her. While she is awake and in the room, she should be my primary focus of attention. I don’t want her looking at me, and wondering when I am going to put my phone down and give her some attention. I also want to be talking to her as much as I can, encouraging that communication, learning new words and attempting them by copying what I am saying, which generally wouldn’t be much if I had my face illuminated by the glow of a smart phone. I also want her to be using iPads as little as possible growing up, I can’t tell her no if I have one in my hand myself. I want her learning to be from books, from pens and paper, from putting a paint brush on paper and actual puzzles, there is so much more to learn that way. When you commit a pen to paper to draw a picture, there is no “undo” button if you make a mistake, and I also believe in proper grammar and punctuation, and there is no better way than to write it down and have it marked with a red pen by a teacher. An exercise book won’t let you use a spell check or put everything in Times New Roman size 12 for you, an exercise book will make you practise your handwriting and learn how to spell words and know when to use them correctly. Call it old fashioned, and yes maybe I do consider myself the grammar police, but nothing drives me more mental than kids who have already spent years at school and apparently learnt nothing. If they can’t understand basic grammar and spelling by 15, then what have they learnt? Its these sort of skills that can’t be learnt so easily as an adult and will have people judging you at interviews, or in fact any time at all when you have to pick up a pen. Plus I think there is joy in writing, I used to love writing stories as a child, and drawing too, I never consider myself much more than okay at drawing, but I used to get such pleasure from it. When I was growing up I would sometimes combine the two and create my own little cartoon segments with made up characters. If only I could find one of those sketch books now! So yeah, the iPad can stay switched off for a while, there is a lot for my little lady to learn as she grows up, and staring at a touch screen just can’t replace some of the fun that lies ahead for her!