Sunday, 22 March 2020

Firsts Without Mum

Mother's Day is a special day, unless your Mum is no longer around. For the first time this is the situation I find myself in, following my Mum's passing last September.

Mum really hadn't been well since 2011, when she had been formally diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and subsequently blindness. In 2017 I was told her health had deteriorated further. The Mum that I saw then was bedridden, enduring kidney failure, deprived of her sight and seemingly always in discomfort if not outright pain.

Consequently when my Step Dad told me six months ago that Mum had passed away it was sudden, but it wasn’t altogether a shock. Naturally, this doesn’t make it any less horrifically final. I had anticipated there would be an occasion where I would be told “Mum has so long left,” but that never transpired.

Grieving has been odd. Due to Spanish custom Mum was buried the day after she died, and due to a number of factors I wasn’t able to make my way out there for her funeral (N.B. I think this is an important consideration for anyone else who thinks about retiring to Spain who might not otherwise be aware of it). In recent days I’ve realised that I don’t even have anywhere near home that is a favourite place of Mum’s, or somewhere that I would equate with her. Never mind a grave, there’s nowhere nearby for me to remember her.

To begin with I was a bit concerned about how I felt after Mum died. Even now I’ve not shed a single tear (although my eyes watered when I remembered threatening the magician who called her up to help with a trick at one of my birthday parties with a toy gun), to the point where I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me. I can try and justify that by saying that she’s no longer suffering (which I absolutely believe), but due to not being at her funeral and not even having anywhere locally to remember her I do wonder if it still hasn’t properly hit me yet.

In recent days, and even in the course of typing this, I feel like it has hit me, but in unexpected ways. I’m living life in somewhat of a malaise. My motivation has been lacking, in just about every respect of life. Self-care, in regard to simple things like going to bed at a sensible time, hasn’t been evident.

Is this just due to Mum's passing? Separate to anything else, this is a very significant life event. It is one which most of us go through, and it inevitably leads to a period of introspection. Certainly I’ve thought lots of times about how her last few years should not have been the way they were.

The past six months have been a slow-winding road of going through events which would have been significant to her. Her wedding anniversary, a birthday (she died shortly before she would have turned 70) a Christmas. Perhaps the toughest moment to this point was my eldest’s recent parents' night at school, where all her teachers glowed about what a great kid she is and how they want her to continue with their subject. In past years I’ve always been quick to proudly pass that onto Mum, only this year I couldn’t, and to be perfectly honest that sucked.

All of these events have been in their own way different and difficult, but not as much as I anticipate Mother’s Day being for me, because this is a day that only she and I shared. That’s all part of both the burden and privilege of being someone’s only child. I remember now when my Gran died my Aunt saying about missing her Mum even at the age of 58. In my personal experience this is the same regardless of age. Young or old, it is nice to run things past your Mum, share good news with her, anything and everything. Lacking the ability to do that leaves an enormous gap.

I look back and realise only now how valuable my Mum's support of me was. Too often I would think "Of course you're going to say that, you're my Mum," instead of thinking how nice it was that her support was there. Too often I would think about how my Dad wasn't supportive, or that validation from my peers was more important (in that in some form you had to earn it). While in some ways this is something you have to figure this out yourself, I think I still could have appreciated it more.

In later years physical distance did make things a bit more difficult. After moving to Spain in 1998 Mum never came back to Britain. She wasn’t at my wedding. She didn’t really have a relationship with her daughter-in-law, and by her own choice never met her granddaughters. Friends made jokes about my parents not existing, which I couldn’t even return fire in a jokey way about because I understood why people would think that. My impression was that people thought I wasn’t close to my Mum because of that, when in fact I understood it all too well. I knew how many people had hurt Mum, and just how many people she never wanted to see again.

Nobody hurt my Mum more than my Dad did. She always feared him turning up at her door, even in a remote corner of Spain that you could not simply stumble upon. While I don’t think I ever thought it was particularly rational, that showed just how he was a dark cloud over her life, even from hundreds of miles away. Thankfully from my point of view her final eighteen months were free of that fear after I had belatedly been told my Dad’s own passing.

I’m at least glad that I put aside the time for more frequent, regular contact with her in her later years. We had become more like peers, I sensed more respect for some decisions I made (even while I protected her from particular life events), and less comparisons with my Dad. Her mind was sharp right up to and including the last time I spoke to her. Given her physical condition, I’m still not sure if that was a blessing or a curse.

Either way, I’ll always feel that Mum should have had a longer, healthier and happier retirement. Whether that was due to all the years that she smoked, not being active enough, something else or just bad luck I’ll never know (I was told they typically don’t carry out post mortems in Spain, so I don’t know the reason for why she died - another thing you should know if you’re considering retiring to Spain). Despite her suffering she loved life, right up to the end. She still had a lot to give and a lot of wisdom to impart. I’m thankful for what she passed on. Thank you Mum, miss you always.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Looking Back: My Move to Scotland

"Driving away from home
Thirty miles or more
And we'll go moving away from home
Without a care in the world"
"Driving Away From Home" - It's Immaterial

Last Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of my move to Scotland. As I left my friend Chris's home in the North West and headed up the M6 (listening to how Palace were losing at home to Blackburn on the way) I could not have foreseen what the following years would bring.

I first made some Scottish friends in the summer of 1994, when a group of 4 girls came to visit my parents' Church and my parents offered one of them a room. This wasn't without issue, as a friend of mine (whose name may be an anagram of the word "Tap") speculated in a particularly amusing way that she must have an horrendous anger problem. To be honest, in that particular case, he wasn't wrong. However in a short time close friendships formed, and a fair number of my friends in Hampshire returned the favour by visiting Scotland over the coming months. I was quite late to the party, and didn't get the opportunity to visit until February of 1995. I spent two really fun weeks there and got back to my university home so late that my housemates wondered if I was coming back. To be honest, a big part of me didn't want to be back.

That didn't mean that I would always feel that way. My visit the following February went so badly that I said I would never come back. Instead I was back barely six months later, where things arguably went worse and I was certain I would never come back. To use my favourite Bill Simmons quote, "The lesson as always, I'm an idiot." And if you don't think I'm an idiot, try doing what I did and tell a girl what a good person you are for forgiving her for lying to you. With a bit of luck you too can experience a silent train journey out of Edinburgh while she paints her nails. Good times!

Luckily for me my Scottish friends are - and indeed continue to be - very forgiving (also exceptionally kind and unbelievably generous, don't expect your typical stereotypes here as they just aren't true). And so I stayed in touch, back in a time that people sent actual letters, phoned and hoped that people would be in to take the call and even sent a fax on occasion (in my case when I had my long awaited hernia operation in the autumn of 1996). As a recent graduate without a permanent job the invitation I received to move there when I visited in April 1997 was one I accepted, although not without some serious consideration first.

So anyway, looking back, what have I learned?

1 - Visiting Somewhere Is Not The Same As Living Somewhere

As I settled in Scotland I went about the things that you do. You find a job, you register with a Doctor, who get to find favourite new places to replace your former favourite places. I tried to make the best of living alone for the first time, watching favourite films (ok, just Top Gun) over and over and over again in my flat. It was fine, until it wasn't, and I realised - much to my surprise - that I was homesick.

On the occasions that I wasn't falling out with people or trudging around shin-deep in snow, I had loved visiting Scotland. I never ever expected to be homesick. It was a shock to the system, and something that lots of calls back home to friends made easier. Not that it was altogether easy. Mobile phones weren't commonplace yet and therefore people like my best friend weren't available to speak to at all. Visiting usually came in two week periods of time, and they would end, and I knew at some point that I would be back somewhere that I knew and was completely comfortable. Committing to somewhere for a prolonged period changes your thinking and your actions somewhat. This leads to point 2.

2 - I Didn't Lean On My Local Friends Enough

Unlike some people who move somewhere new, I had plenty of friends. However I didn't want to be a burden, and so I didn't lean on them for support. I concentrated upon making further new friends (none of whom were as close as my previous friends), writing home, working (often late, just due to shift hours) and amusing myself by myself.

Just after the New Year it was pointed out to me that plenty of my friends weren't really seeing a lot of me. I was staying in Bellshill at the time, which happened to be the wrong side of where everybody tended to meet. I was a bit isolated, but not terribly so. What I needed to do was to work harder at being a friend, and make myself more available. I don't think you can do it forever, but when you make such a move you need help to settle in.

3 - I Didn't Lean On My Old Friends Enough

Within two months of moving I was back to see Chris for a weekend. At the time Chris was just a stone's throw from a junction of the M6, just about 3 hours or so from the flat I was renting. And so I left work, drove South, stayed on Friday, watched Palace win at Sheffield Wednesday on the Saturday, went to an Indie club in Manchester that night before having a Sunday morning viewing of Match of the Day prior to heading home.

The right way to handle homesickness? Possibly not, but it worked for me. Realistically, I should have done it more.

That isn't to say that I didn't get away, but I didn't necessarily call upon the right people. On one occasion I went to see an old friend in Romford, which would have been fine if 1) They weren't well-meaningly trying to set me up with a friend (which I wouldn't have said no to at the time), and 2) If I hadn't had one of the worst meals I've ever had in my life, pasta with a garlic sauce so potent I just couldn't finish it. Overall it wasn't a way to unwind.

I picked my spots about coming down, sometimes very poorly. I was invited back to a friend's 21st and feeling that homesickness combined with a party with old friends might be the final straw to what was increasingly looking like a bad idea, I declined the invite. I was going to speak to the birthday girl on the day though, so the night before when I was invited out I planned to make the best of it. Instead I had an absolutely horrendous night, culminating in missing a motorway junction and getting lost. The following morning on the phone I lied through my teeth about how much I was enjoying life in Scotland.

Fact is, if I had been honest with more of my old friends I think that they absolutely been willing to help me. However they couldn't do that if I didn't tell them the truth. I really thought that I would move to Scotland and everything would fall into place: home, career, personal life. It did everything but (especially career wise, as I going to a job I hated) and I didn't want to admit it. I wasn't just lonely and homesick, I was a lonely, homesick liar.

4 - I Didn't Diversify My Friends Enough

This particular issue didn't really cause problems until I had lived here for nearly seven years. Although I was married by this point my wife and I were still part of a pretty big social group. It was really our only social group, and we never saw what was coming.

I don't think it serves any purpose to say why it happened, but the larger group irreparably fractured. Friendships that predated my arrival by many years were destroyed. Although it was not in any way the fault of either of us, my wife and I found ourselves stuck in the middle of it all. It was a point where no decision was a decision, and we were seen to be taking sides. It was an awful time when in fact Lorraine and I had plenty to appreciate (career stability, a nice holiday a few months away, plans to start a family).

To this day we remain somewhat collateral damage of this, as there are plenty of sadly former friends who no longer speak to us. There are times I want to label it as pathetic, when it is just terribly sad. And we were by no means the biggest victim of it all. A matter of weeks ago I saw one of the former friends in a local supermarket. Frankly I was somewhat relieved when she didn't see me. Unfortunately among this group that isn't unusual.

Shortly after I moved to Scotland a group of what I guess would have been about 15 of us went out for lunch to celebrate a member of the group's birthday. From that entire group I'm now friends with a mere handful of them.

Over time I've become more diversified in my friendships. I've got work colleagues, parents of my daughters' friends and even - say it quietly! - in-laws. You can't put all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes.

I'll be right back after this musical interlude, a song I always think about in regard to relationships which have taken a turn for the worst. There's a lot to be said about forgiveness.

The Heart of the Matter - The Eagles from Chris G on Vimeo.

5 - Family Kept Me Here... The Future, Who Knows?

What helped me with loneliness and homesickness all those years ago? The woman who eventually became my wife.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to return South. I was offered a job back South of the border following a speculative interview. Two things kept me from accepting the offer, 1) A murderous drive home up the M6, and 2) The knowledge that my daughters are settled where they are. This was all before I began to seriously investigate the cost of housing back in the South of England (I'm somewhat aware of the gap in housing prices, and worry that it makes returning permanently at any point in the future an impossible proposition).

Whenever I go back to Selhurst Park to watch Palace I end up tweeting a photo from my seat and refer to being "back home". Home can mean a lot of things, but in regard to being relaxed, comfortable and glad to be there going to watch Palace does feel like home (at least until the visiting team scores, which seems to happen more often than not these days).

Under the same definition home with my wife and daughters is also clearly home, but is the wider environment around me? Due to the commitments of being a husband and father I'm once again less able to make time for my friends, and if I end up scheduling time for friends it ends up being for those who are further afield. East Sussex, Birmingham, just outside Manchester, they can all feel like home when you're around the right people.

I miss lots of my old friends, but I especially miss my best friend Neil. I'd love to be nearer to him and to do more socially with him. If I were nearer him I would be nearer to a lot of other friends as well. Things would certainly be different, but could I confirm they would be better?

Realistically I don't think I would ever willingly be separated by a great distance from my daughters. But what if they move? Where do I place myself then? The thought of being one of those sad fathers who has his daughters worrying about him all the time doesn't really appeal to me, I want them to thrive, get on and do great things with their lives.

Reviewing this makes it seem that I either do or should regret moving here, when I honestly don't, despite what have frequently been difficult circumstances. I know life isn't all smooth sailing, but I ultimately want my life here to be considered under my own terms as a success. Thankfully I still have more time to get those things right.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

What's wrong with Riviera?

Unless you go around with your eyes closed you can't have missed the many billboards advertising Riviera on Sky Atlantic. Given the channel's previous choice of programming, including personal favourites Mad Men and The Affair (not to mention Game of Thrones, which isn't my thing, sorry), I thought I would give it a shot.

The first few episodes were pretty good, setting the story of American newly-wed Georgina (Julia Stiles) living in Monaco when her professional life in the art world is brutally interrupted by the death of her husband, banking magnate Constantine (Antony LaPaglia).

Sadly since the first few episodes the programme has stalled, for many reasons that I will detail below.

1) Weak Characters

Now there is every possibility that I'm not paying close enough attention, but Georgina and Constantine are the only characters I know by name. There's the ex-wife, the stereotypical rich kid laying waste to the family inheritance, the slightly more sensitive son, the self-harming/always high daughter. Outside the family there's Georgina's obviously British male friend who nobody questions the presence of (which seems odd when she's just been widowed, surely someone would be bothered by this?), but I don't know his name either. There's the driven policeman who seems to have something about him, and guess what? Yes, I don't know who he is either.

These are just the characters I care about. There are a plethora of other characters here, there and everywhere around Monaco who add practically nothing to the show. That's poor. Mad Men were always careful to drip-feed characters into place, while The Affair started with an incredibly small core cast and only added other characters slowly. There are lessons to be learned there. And if characters are going to be added, try to give them a profile that is a bit more original than the one provided to the prodigal son here. Personally part of the appeal of Mad Men was frequently seeing good and bad from the very same characters, there is no such subtlety here.

2) Subject Matter

My wife and I had a rather odd thing happen during episode 3 of Riviera. Instead of sitting with me my wife got up, started ironing and generally getting on with things. At the end of the episode I pointed out how she had been busy, and asked if she wanted me to keep the episode on our Sky+ box for her to watch later. At that point she admitted that she didn't like it.

I thought about it for a while and realised that this isn't a show for everyone. Mad Men threw power, sexism, affairs, broken families and nostalgia for the 1960s into their mix. The Affair threw a compelling lead character with a troubled past, consequences upon all the characters from the actual affair. Going a bit further back Prison Break had the underlying theme of family loyalty and fighting injustice, while Homeland explored national loyalty, self-belief and betrayal (of all kinds). I'd say they're pretty universal themes. Throw those up against international banking and the art world. Hmm... not really comparable.

(In a nice irony for a show that I think is trying too hard to make a clever point about dodgy financing there is a line towards the end of the credits which points out that the production receives tax breaks for filming in France, which personally I quite enjoy.)

3) "We speak English over 'ere"

No, I'm not being completely ignorant. For a show based in Monaco I would expect characters to speak French. If you're going to dumb it down for the audience and people like myself who can't speak French, then have everyone speak English. Not the odd line in French, but then have them speaking in English again a moment later annoys me absolutely no end. This was the precise reason why Marie Calvet was my least favourite character in Mad Men, due to her random switching between speaking French and English.

4) Sudden and Extreme Violence

Self-harming daughter with a pair or scissors sticking out of her arm? Check. Girl being solicited in a car suddenly stabbing someone in the eye? Check. That isn't for me. Ever. I'm just not a big fan of violence, I'm especially not so when it comes out of nowhere. There's nothing wrong with bad things being merely implied instead of brutally shown.

There are some things that Riviera does well. I think Julia Stiles holds the show together as well as possible, the ex-wife/matriarch makes things a bit interesting (I do wonder somewhat what would have happened if they had made her the axis of the show instead), and the setting is fantastic. However overall there are too many avenues that appear to lead nowhere. I'm probably going to stick with the show for the remainder of series one as I'm halfway through it now, but I hope that they choose to wrap it up cleanly. I think one series of this will be sufficient unless something significant changes.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Quick Thoughts on Jonathan Martin & Richie Incognito

I've been short of time this month, but I just wanted to post some quick thoughts on Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito affair, and the effect of it upon my favourite NFL team, the Miami Dolphins. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Martin left the team in mid-season because of alleged bullying, led by Incognito. Firstly, and most importantly, when Dolphins veteran John Denney was asked for his opinion on the Wells report, he stated, "Ted Wells can go into any one of the 32 teams in the entire league and he's going to come out with the same investigation, same results." I think this is really important to state. I have read countless articles over the years which have praised the standards and setup of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so why did former Steeler and Dolphin of a mere few months Mike Wallace come to the defence of Incognito? Because I suspect the kind of hazing/teasing/pranks that took place are standard across the league. Does this make Incognito innocent in all the proceedings? Clearly not, and actions such as seeking to burn the fine book detailed in the Wells Report show that (and obviously the repeated use of racist terms is unacceptable). In my opinion though, that shows someone who has been pampered to due to his athletic ability, throughout his life, and has never been disciplined or told in any form that such behaviour is wrong. Now don't get me wrong, boys will be boys. Jonathan Martin complained about comments about his sister. Workmates of mine have seen pictures of my sister and made comments, and while they have not been to the same extremes, they haven't always been tasteful either. Have I complained? No, because such chat goes on between guys, and I know they're not being serious. As I've mentioned before, I moved around a fair bit through my childhood, and this led to some difficult times being the new kid at various schools. Do you know when the bullying stopped? When I stopped showing that it bothered me. Sometimes you have to make a change yourself, however difficult that may be, however unjust it may seem that you have to be the one to make a change first. Additionally, the way both the initial affair and subsequent report were detailed in the media were not balanced. Did anyone report that Martin, for whatever reason he deemed correct, talk about women in the same way as Incognito? Did anyone mention that in his lowest times Martin admitted to being an abuser of alcohol and controlled substances? No, because they didn't suit the narrative. Incognito, the guy with trouble in his past, Martin from a family of Harvard graduates, who himself attended highly regarded Stanford. To be clear, I don't think that either Incognito or the Dolphins have behaved perfectly in this whole affair. Indeed, I think it is the latest in a long line of public relations disasters under the ownership of Stephen Ross, and Incognito has more than enough on his record to show he is a less than stellar character (although on the evidence of his damaging his own sports car with a baseball bat, I also suspect mental health issues). However I don't think Jonathan Martin's move to San Francisco will be the last time we hear of him being involved in some form of controversy. For his sake, I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

In Defence of Gran Turismo 6

Following the launch of Gran Turismo 6 last November I looked forward to receiving it at Christmas. When Gran Turismo 5 came out my pre-order was quickly snaffled away by my wife for Christmas, and so on this occasion I by-passed the pre-order and accepted it would be a Christmas present. Between the release and my receiving it, I was somewhat surprised by the criticism, but with the present purchased a few weeks prior to Christmas I didn't consider returning it.

Do I regret that at all? Not in the slightest. I really enjoyed Gran Turismo 5, and my enjoyment of Gran Turismo 6 has lasted for a solid two months, and I don't think it will stop at any point soon. For one thing, it has met my biggest need from Gran Turismo 5, namely more circuits. Having visited Brands Hatch, I love having both the Indy and Grand Prix circuits to drive around. Having watched countless races from Silverstone, I love having all manner of Silverstone configurations to drive round. Additionally, the sadly fictional Apricot Hill is a fabulous circuit, offering challenging fast turns, an opportunity to get into a nice rhthym, and lots of overtaking opportunities amid the rolling contours.

(Billionaire to-do list: Build the Apricot Hill circuit in real life. I won't ever have an opportunity to do so, but if someone could that would be awesome, thanks.)

So why the criticism? Because the game isn't very different to GT5? So driving on the moon and on a hillclimb aren't different? The licence tests are now required to progress throughout the game, and if you throw in the coffee break challenges there is plenty of new content there. Because you don't see every intimate detail inside every car? That's a criticism I have never understood, although I'm more of a race fan than a car fan, with a keener interest in the circuits and driving on them as well as possible instead of as beautifully as possible. Because sounds of collisions still sound, as one critic suggested, "like elbowing a fridge"? Well, to be fair I can't argue that last point.

My biggest bug-bears are the absence of the colossal rewards that some of the seasonal challenges offered in Gran Turismo 5, and complete disappearance of the Ferrari Formula 1 cars. While the F2007 was pretty challenging to drive, the rewards from setting it up perfectly and then driving it well rank as some of the most enjoyable moments I've had from any video game. I wish they would come back, although I suspect if the cars were not in the game at launch then there is no plan to add them later. Polyphony Digital, feel free to swap these in for the Ascari circuit, which looks pretty in an overhead plan but which is too twisty to really let loose and have fun on.

I have come to enjoy the opportunity to experience the longer races (i.e. ten, fifteen and twenty minute races), but an opportunity for further control over races would be welcome, as in fact would the opportunity to take part in the endurance races which although daunting where nice to take part in on days off from work. Opposition driver AI needs some work as well, for with the exception of occasional swerving from the racing line their refusal to fight overtaking sometimes takes the challenge away. Perhaps one day there will be the opportunity to change the challenges you face, whether that be in regard to AI aggression or to AI tactics in general. Want to run long on a set of hard tires? Why shouldn't an AI driver go to soft tires for a faster set of laps in a longer race?

I would suspect at this point that such resources and options may be saved for Gran Turismo 7, which will ultimately be the point that I will need to decide whether I'm a 40-something with a wife and two kids who is happy to "make do" with a PS3 or someone who feels younger than they actually are and who can't be without a PS4 and the opportunity to blast around Laguna Seca in Gran Turismo's latest incarnation. While I enjoy the present game the three year gap between GT5 and GT6 seems to set a precedent, along with a clock ticking. For the time being I will continue to enjoy GT6 on the PS3, and occasionally think ahead to what I might need to ask the family to put under the Christmas tree for me in 2016.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Words, Thoughts, Expectations and Considerations

Last week at work my shift colleagues and I were considering what the day may bring, when one of my colleagues spoke out in unusual confidence, stating that we were going to have a good day. I couldn't help but warn him, "Don't say that," but an odd thing happened, the day did actually go pretty well. The weird thing about this? It showed that ultimately what we say doesn't really have any power over anything.

Why is this a big deal to me? Ever since I was young I learned not to boast about what I might or might not do, for fear of the worst happening. In recent years that has only increased, to the point where I wonder why my colleagues ask what I have planned for my days off. Nothing is set in stone any more, I'm always gearing for the worst, or at least attempting to. Sometimes even your worst projections don't cover all eventualities, or worse still, you're completely blindsided by what has taken place.

What is the worst case scenario that people talk about? How about the numerous people, who have recounted to us for years about how they didn't receive support while their children grew up, lost a home, encountered health problems due to overworking to meet commitments, etc. Are they wishing this on us? Of course not, but as soon as someone mentions it I end up thinking, "Well, that's obviously going to happen to us." Does it have to be this way? Certainly not. To I expect all the worst case scenarios to become reality? Yes. Does that make sense? No.

Although I don't think it is really talked about, you reach points in your life where you realise that you still have a lot to learn. Part of me thinks, "I'm 38, I should have everything figured out by now," although I clearly don't. I'm really just coming to realise that at the moment I'm a strange blend of pessimist and fatalist, where I expect things to go wrong and just accept that I can't change them. When it comes to other people, I can't change them, but when it comes to myself, my family, and things which I may not be able to altogether control but may have an opportunity to influence, then I owe it to myself to do everything I can to seek the best for my family.

Some of the issues that I see at work on a daily basis are brought about by expectancies. These come in all manner of forms, the expectancy that a service will break, that a team member may call up and ask for a holiday, or even the self-expectancy that I expect better performance from myself. What is the expectancy I have from life? That things are bad, that they will continue to be bad and that they won't get better. And so I come back to the lifelong battle I've had with my parents, where they exhort me to "think positive" and I wonder what the justification is for seeing anything positive on the horizon. Even then, every once in a while something positive does come along, even a pessimist like me sees that. The difficulty is in making changes to make positive events more frequent.

One of the changes I am going to need to make is to pay less attention to others. When I think about career options I consider what my in-laws will think. When my kids aren't happy I consider what other parents might think. When thinking about what I'm doing with my days off I think about what my colleagues will think about what I'm doing, and whether or not they think my life is boring/miserable/dull? I need to be less considerate of a lot of people, and actually put myself and my family first more often. Will everyone like it? I suspect not. Does it hopefully mean a better future for myself and my family? I hope so. Will all be plain sailing? Almost certainly not, but eventually we'll get there, in one form or another.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013


This has been a year with a number of changes, both personal and technical, so I thought it may be interesting to write a bit about some of them here.

1) Shift Changes
In September my team at work, which had been running on shifts of four days on/four days off/four nights on/four days off switched to a trial of two days on/two nights on/four days off. I had really become accustomed to that pattern, I felt it really suited me, and I especially loved the night before my first nightshift. That was a time that I could catch up on my Sky+ recordings, play some games and generally have a little me time.

Now I don't have that. I tried staying up late after my second dayshift, but it didn't work. Lots of experimenting saw that the only way I can really work with this is to go to bed at a normal time after my second dayshift, and then get a sleep in the afternoon before my first nightshift. It's had a bit of a negative impact upon my personal life, but I've been able to get through work without feeling too tired.

2) No More Google Reader
For a number of years I had become somewhat of a Google Reader addict. For me it was the easiest way to keep in touch with my RSS feeds, especially the Lifehacker feed which frequently published over 20 items a day.

I held out until the end, hoping that Google would change their mind and continue to support Reader. However they proceeded with the shutdown as planned on July 1st, and I had to switch. I tried Digg Reader, but for some reason I didn't like it as much.

Additionally just after Google Reader died a digital death Lifehacker carried out what felt like their umpteenth instance of needless tinkering with their RSS feed, again changing their RSS feed so that only part of an article was shown. Their intention was clearly to drive more traffic to the site itself, but by doing this again at a time when I was considering the usefulness of RSS readers they managed to change my behaviour entirely. I unsubscribed from the RSS feed and began to follow them on Twitter instead.

So I'm no longer an RSS junkie. I was a Twitter junkie already, so that behaviour is unchanged, but Lifehacker are seeing much less traffic from me (N.B. I retweet them frequently, as I think their writers are usually fantastic). I keep a few low volume feeds in Digg Reader, but to be honest I can't remember the last time I even logged into it.

3) Farewell ESPN America
Although I had already unsubscribed, I was still disappointed when ESPN America went off the air on August 1st as part of the reshuffle of sports channels that saw the start of the BT Sport service. The disappearance of the only sports channel specifically for North American sport was disappointing, and forced me into a position where I could only keep up with my favourite shows by podcast (Pardon the Interruption, Highly Questionable) or in some cases not at all (yep, I've really missed College Gameday this season).

While I'm not party to the ESPN decision making process I wonder if part of the reason for the channel's ultimate demise was the restrictive nature of the highlights they were able to show, and the ultimate effect it had upon many of their programmes, including the flagship SportsCenter franchise.

In addition to being reduced to being a podcast listener, I've also come to find meagre highlights and features on various YouTube channels. To find other highlights and clips I've had to become somewhat of a YouTube ninja, and while this has been bearable (along with my reduced quantity of TV watching), I do still miss it somewhat.

Ultimately I look forward (hopefully) to a time where media rights can be eliminated, and programmes like Pardon the Interruption can be shown globally in their intended format. Until then I'll just have to get by in the way I do at the moment. It may sound naïve, but with torrenting and streaming still prevalent I think major channels like ESPN and Sky will look to find a way to monetise their broadcasts globally rather than losing out on additional income.

Monday, 23 December 2013

JFK: Random Thoughts 50 Years On

Firstly, sorry that this is a bit later than planned. I ended up having a pretty busy November, and didn't get time to complete this by the end of the month.

Perhaps though that's an indication of where I've personally reached with the most famous assassination of the 20th century. In 1993 for the 30th anniversary I watched and read as much as I possibly could in regard to it, taking on conspiracy theories, retrospectives and critical examinations of JFK's presidency itself. Now I'm a bit older, and in amid everything else that makes up daily life it doesn't seem so important anymore. With the responsibilities I have myself, I have less time to involve myself with things like this that do not directly affect me.

Additionally I've noticed a shift in attitudes in regard to the assassination. In the vast majority of the shows that I've watched or listened to, there seems to be much more acceptance of Lee Harvey Oswald having carried out at least a part in the assassination.  This certainly wasn't the case 20 years ago, and while it strikes me as being a bit too convenient perhaps there are bigger conspiracy theories to mull over that have taken place since then.

I wonder as well if the questions, suggestions and in some cases outright accusations of 9/11 conspiracy theorists have played a part in the reduction of conspiracy theories in regard to JFK's assassination. Personally I look at these and think that a lot of these diminish everything from the credibility of architects (buildings are meant to survive fully loaded jetliners flying into them, really?) to the bravery of victims (sure, United 93 was shot down and the actions of passengers were nothing to do with preventing the flight from reaching Washington). When I think about these theories and then wonder about the JFK conspiracies I do find myself considering whether or not it was similar people who promoted such theories in the last 50 years.

In saying that though, JFK presents the perfect storm for conspiracy theorists. The Russians, Cubans, the Mafia, the CIA, Communists and those who hated Communists. I don't think the soap opera bearing the name of the city JFK was killed in had such a wide range of suspects when JR was shot.

On a praiseworthy note, it was nice to see some new media that I had not seen before that managed to stay within the realms of taste and decency. National Geographic's investigation in to JFK's last days, and his influence upon ordinary members of the public who he met in Texas prior to the assassination was poignant. A short BBC clip on the part that the Blackwatch played at JFK's funeral was new to me. The George Clooney-narrated documentary on the media's coverage of the assassination was compelling, and while arguably trivial, a long-form article on what exactly happened to the original casket which took JFK from Dallas back to Washington was far more interesting than it should have been.

Of course not all media chose to go down that route. JFK: The Lost Bullet was in my opinion an attempt to justify repeated showings of the Zapruder film, in HD no less (as they also told us repeatedly). It became so bloodthirsty I couldn’t justify watching it to what I understand was a ludicrous finish.

I found myself wondering if the horror suffered by the Kennedy family was forgotten somewhat. I know the most significant living member of JFK's family today is his daughter Caroline, who recently began a post as US ambassador to Japan. While looking to balance historical perspective with a gaudy sense of intrusion, I do wonder just how much the horrific and public loss of his father had upon John F. Kennedy, Jr. Everyone remembers his farewell salute to his father, but how many people remember that was on his 3rd birthday? My eldest remembers things from a frightfully early age, so I do wonder what if anything he remembered, or if indeed that played any part in his fatal plane crash that he was at the controls for.

And then of course there is Jackie Kennedy. So much of an influence over so many people I have known over the years, especially my Mum. I pondered if there was a post-assassination bump in her popularity, similar to those I've witnessed to the likes of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain after their deaths. Clearly Jackie's dignity and strength immediately following the murder of her husband is awe-inspiring, and I can see why people like my Mum would appreciate her style and grace. Did history treat her kindly? Yes, as I'd like to think a widow should be treated. Did history fully record her abilities in supporting her husband on the campaign trail, and later in life as a business woman and matriarch? I would suggest not. Through no fault of her own, too much is made of a blood-stained pink outfit and not enough of the woman who wore it.

Will we ever consider the assassination in such a way again? I expect we won't. Personally I don't class 60 years as a big anniversary, and by the time the 75th anniversary comes round there will be even less living witnesses to the horror of that day, and also unfortunately there will probably be another horrific world event that will be a new generation's "Where were you when…" moment. For a subject matter that fascinated me and a time in history that still interests me, I'd like to visit the Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza as a whole, to put myself in that area and to picture that time, just to help me understand it better. I'm not sure all the big questions are fully answered, but I don't think they will be definitively during my lifetime, and it is debatable at this point whether it really matters anymore.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Month In Sporting Torment

Anyone who knows me really well knows I love sport, and especially my teams, but to say the least this month hasn't been the happiest month sports-wise. When I say it hasn't gone well, I mean it has been historically bad. Let's take it team-by-team:

Crystal Palace: Lost every single game, including a 4-1 home defeat to Fulham which included an incredible goal (I refuse to use the term "worldie") by Fulham striker Pajtim Kasami. This culminated in the departure by mutual consent of manager Ian Holloway, who I had only passed and said good morning to a month earlier prior to our home defeat by Swansea City. Really, really not a good day. For reasons I never completely understood Holloway wasn't completely accepted by some members of the Palace support, and although I had seen us play badly under his watch an element of patience, a delivered promotion and a personal belief that he was a good guy (backed up by this link found by my friend Ben after his departure) I felt it was a shame he left. I think we're poorer for his exit, regardless of present form.

Atlanta Braves: It's October, time for more Baseball heartache! At least the Braves managed to win a game in October, and indeed they even won a play-off game in their series to the Dodgers. But a series defeat, culminated by a game four loss snatched from the jaws of victory, stung. The Braves still haven't won a play-off series since 2001. On the bright side, having a work colleague who is a Cleveland Indians fan helped on the basis that you see Postseason Baseball futility isn't solely limited to Georgia's capital city.

Miami Dolphins: Remember the 3-0 start? Remember the 3... and oh, yeah, whatever happened to that? It all went pear-shaped, that's what. Just like Palace, the Fins lost every game in October and now sit with a 3-4 record. There's no sign of coach Joe Philbin leaving though, which I think is a good thing. He's a good coach and a good guy, and hopefully he's here for the long haul. Fixing the offensive line might help though.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls season began on Tuesday... with a defeat. Which makes perfect sense this month. At least Derrick Rose's surgically repaired knee seems to be better for not playing last season. Now excuse me while I go and find some wood to touch.

Warrington Wolves: Who? Yes, my infrequently mentioned Rugby League team, who I took on board due to my best friend at University. This month saw them play in their second consecutive Grand Final. Of course it finished with a second consecutive defeat. I haven't told my friend Chris about the sporting month I've had. I don't think he'd blame me, but it isn't worth mentioning. Also if I'm honest I know it doesn't mean to me what it meant to Chris. When I'm happy about Warrington results I'm happy for Chris, when they've lost a big game I think about what it means to Chris. Arguably this could be worse for me, let's just move on.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are doing... pretty well actually, winning 10 of their first 13 games this season. Small problem, like the Bulls they're at the start of their season, and to all intents the start of the NHL season is effectively meaningless. In recent years top seeds have come a cropper in the Stanley Cup play-offs, and therefore it seems to be more important to be in the Stanley Cup play-offs instead of just being highly-seeded within those. It seems that all tickets are equally capable of winning the raffle. On a positive note, winning is better than the alternative.

Hopefully one day soon, preferably from a Braves perspective also in October, I'll have a blog post where I can report exactly the opposite from what I'm writing today. For the time being though I'll welcome even a small improvement.

Monday, 30 September 2013

What I'm (Not) Watching, September 2013

Here's a twist to my should-be-annual TV review, because as the title implies, I'm not watching anything at the moment. It seems astonishing in some respects. I grew up in a house where watching TV, especially at night and over the weekends in the winter, was the main communal activity.

Right at this moment I'm in a TV vacuum. Mad Men, my favourite show, is on a break between the sixth and seventh seasons. The Apprentice is also between seasons, and due to my cancelling ESPN I don't have access to PTI, DLHQ, Around the Horn (all victims of the ESPN cull of ESPN America) or College Gameday. I made an effort to watch The Americans, until I found myself four episodes behind at the end of season one and wasn't really bothered about it (which I blame on the fact that the two strongest actors, Keri Russell and Noah Emmerich, are never on screen together).

Over the years my interest in reality shows has faded, so the recent run of regular and celebrity Big Brother didn't just leave me disinterested, but left me feeling significantly aggravated. Any form of dancing does the same, purely thanks to the catty judges, so that makes Strictly Come Dancing a no-go for me (even with noted celebrity Palace fan Susanna Reid on it). And X-Factor... X-Factor, ugh. How many ways can you say that you're fed up with all the dramatics, sob stories, last chances and every other overblown cliché they come up with? If it was purely a talent show I could live with it, but with everything else that is incorporated within the X-Factor package now makes that a no-go for me as well.

Breaking Bad? No, too violent, as I mentioned before, not my thing. Game of Thrones, the stuff of fantasy, not my thing either. Downton Abbey? Sorry, there's something about period pieces that I've never liked. Homeland was must see TV for me last year but the end of series 2 was so badly butchered that I'm not sure I can muster the enthusiasm for series 3.

So what do you do when you're effectively a television free-agent? You're free to become more selective, picking up an occasional documentary here and there (if I see an episode of Banged Up Abroad on National Geographic I'm probably taking at least a cursory glance), try an occasional new show here and there (and usually find they suck, yes Prisoner: Cell Block H remake, I'm talking about you) as well as re-runs of old sitcoms (Big Bang Theory on E4 is a repeat offender here) and quiz shows (yes, I finally succumbed to the addictive quality of Pointless).

Beyond just the TV is the freedom that you allow yourself. Thanks to Sky+ I rarely watch anything when it is shown anyway, but not having appointment TV frees you up from having any point where you really have to be in front of a TV. And that doesn't even cover the times that I'm actively looking to try and get away from a TV. The pity then is that life is busy enough that I can't make better use of the time, especially when that coincides with time that I need to be relatively quiet so I don't wake up my daughters when they're sleeping.

At this point I'm actually enjoying not having to actively work to keep up with a series. It may be a product of strange events and odd timing, but I'm actually quite enjoying this turn of events. When Mad Men ends after the split seventh series I'm not sure that I'll be picking anything up. Unless something exceptional comes along I think I can live without it.