Category Archives: Family Life

30 years and not a single day of regret

I’m going to get in a lot of trouble for this post, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

In September, C. and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I was the luckiest man on the planet on that day in September 1989, and I have been in number one spot every day since. In truth, we are the very epitome of the ‘opposites attract’ cliché. C. is beautiful, intelligent, gregarious, witty, and short. I’m quite tall. But it’s probably because we complement one another in terms of attitude and outlook that the last 30 years have been so much fun.

To mark our anniversary year, we are revisiting a load of places that have featured on our journey to date. So between Christmas and New Year we are making a brief visit to York, where we spent the start of our honeymoon in 1989 – only this time we are staying in a boutique hotel rather than the cheap and cheerful bed and breakfast that was all we could afford then. We will still though look out for the take away where we bought fish and chips with extra scraps before sitting in the dark and eating them under the slowly darkening sky.

Other things on the list include a walk along the promenade and out across the cliff top at Penarth; and KFC in the car at Roath Park Lake. This past Saturday, we revisited the first place that we ever went to on an ‘official’ date. At the time it was called the Mason’s Arms in Whitchurch, a suburb in north Cardiff. Quite by chance, our booking coincided with Beaujolais Noveau day – when that was still something of an event in the late ’80s. I don’t remember what we had to eat that evening, but I do remember that we were last to leave the restaurant and that C.’s eyes sparkled like diamonds the whole time that we were there. To be honest, whilst C. is as beautiful now as she was then, the former Mason’s Arms has – like me – allowed itself to slip a little in the intervening years. It’s now a Toby Carvery, and it’s not easy to recreate the romance of that first date when the table is a little bit sticky, and the lighting is so bright that you leave with a faint tan! What hadn’t changed was the magic of being in C.’s company – though the wine we chose this time was much better than the Beaujolais Nouveau that we thought we were incredibly sophisticated in drinking 30 years’ ago!

It was Groucho Marx who said : “Marriage is a wonderful institution… but who wants to live in an institution?” Well – any institution that provides as much happiness as being married to C. has provided to me, is well worth living in. Love you loads xx

What is going on with Christmas decorations?

I have had the great discomfort pain pleasure of spending time on each of the last two Saturdays in Christmas departments of retail outlets. Last week it was Harrods; today it was a large garden centre and shopping outlet to the north of Cardiff. I love Christmas, but I hate Christmas shopping with equal passion. Normally, however, the Christmas departments are just about bearable. I like the gaudy baubles for the tree; and the musical Father Christmases or Elves, with their festive melodies and over-the-top laughs. The bright colours and gauchely tasteless nature of Christmas decorations really appeals to me.

This year, however, something weird is happening. Last week at Harrods it was all pastel shades and muted colours – more like a high end paint palette chart than the gaudily bright colours that normally signify Christmas. Today, though, was even worse. When did swans become a Christmas decoration? And what have unicorns, mermaids and llamas (that is a llama in the middle of that tree, isn’t it?) have to do with the festive season?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favour of progress and change. I understand that the environmental half-life of tinsel is now just less than nuclear waste; and we need to wrap our presents in paper that can be easily recycled once it’s been ripped to pieces on Christmas morning. But there’s something surreal about Christmas decorations fashioned to look like rainbows. For myself, I’ll be sticking to traditional decorations that speak to the things that really matter this Christmas.

Have a great Saturday everybody!

A weekend visit to London

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in London, doing as many touristy things as possible in the 24 hours or so that I was there. Some reflections in Haiku form and supporting photos comprise today’s contribution to the blog. The Haikus are organised broadly in chronological order of the weekend

Tube from Hillingdon
Personal space invaded
But no eye contact

Harrods at Christmas
Conspicuous consumption:
Rich people's grotto

Saturday 'Up West'
Streets thronged with happy tourists
Beggars plead for change

Whitehall late at night
Ministries dark and silent
Power powered off

The Abbey dazzles
White stone's reflective glory
Pure against the dark

Tower blocks rise high
Modern monuments stand proud:
St Paul's looks away

Sunday coffee stop
Autumn sun dapples the park
Squirrels hide acorns

Reflective drive home
London's clamour slowly fades
Was it all a dream?

In praise of… Friday

Fridays – dontchaluvem? There’s nothing quite so wonderful as the feeling that builds as the afternoon winds down and the weekend beckons. Admittedly, this only applies for those of us who work or are in education Monday to Friday, before getting two days to ourselves at the weekend. It’s one of the reasons why I think I would really struggle with seven day shift patterns. It’s hard to imagine that coming off shift on, say, a Tuesday, could ever have the same sense of relief and joy that comes from a Friday finish. To be honest, Fridays are a little bit different now than when I first started working. With flexible working arrangements as they now are, it’s not unusual for the office to be around half full on any given Friday; and I’ll admit that’s unusual for me to be there beyond about 3.30pm on any given Friday. Nevertheless, getting into the car and driving into the (normally much heavier) traffic than usual on the commute home is much less of a chore on Friday than almost any other day of the year. The only exception is the Chris Rea-themed experience that is driving home for Christmas.

When I first started full time work (in the now long-dissolved Welsh Health Common Services Authority – WHCSA), the Friday before a bank holiday weekend was a particular highlight. WHCSA operated a flexi-time scheme that included core hours of 9.30am to 12pm, and 2.30pm to 4pm. The only exception to this was bank holiday weekends when – as a result of accepted custom and practice the origins of which were lost in the mists of time – the 4pm was brought forward an hour. This meant that with judicious saving of flexi time in the weeks running up to the bank holiday it was possible to work a normal Friday morning, go to the pub at 12pm, return to the office at 2.30pm for half an hour to tidy up, and then be back in the pub for 3pm. This led to some legendary afternoons of darts, pool, mugging the quiz machine (although I suspect that I only remember the few wins and have conveniently forgotten the many, many losses!) and general team and morale building.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and a greater awareness of issues of professionalism, equality, diversity and inclusion, and the fact that the teams that I worked in at WHCSA at the time were heavily male-dominated, I recognise that there were all sorts of issues about this sort of behaviour and approach. But I’m not going to pretend that for somebody straight out of university with money in my pocket and virtually no ties these were anything but great afternoons. I wouldn’t do it now, of course, but…

These days, reflecting both the changing times and my advancing years, my Friday ‘excess’ rarely goes beyond a couple of G&Ts and a large glass of wine with dinner. Nevertheless, there is still that sense that work is done for another week; that the weekend stretches out before me with all its promise of getting stuff done (usually more promise than realised potential, admittedly), and – at this time of the year at least – Christmas is just around the corner.

I like Fridays.

Time and tide waits for no-one

Day 10 : Get out into nature and observe the changing season.

It’s been a beautiful, bright, autumn day in Cardiff, and so this challenge was an easy one. A walk along the river bank and back up through country lanes to the house was a real joy. Note to self though : future walks will be much more pleasurable (and drier) if I wear my boots rather than my trainers!

Running for good

Day 7 : Find a new way to help or support a cause you care about.

Those who may have inadvertently stumbled across this blog in previous years may recall that I have previously chronicled my attempt to complete 200 race miles in my fiftieth birthday year. The deadline was extended slightly, but the challenge was achieved. along the way I was fortunate to complete a half marathon in Marrakech as well as races in Haverhill, Llanelli and Manchester (among others).

My running in recent years has been severely disrupted as a result of a knee injury and subsequent surgery; and then a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get back into running, leading to partial relapses. However, it seems that recently a corner has been turned and I am running pain free and slowly building strength and endurance. It seems like a good time therefore to set myself a new challenge – and to seek to raise some money for a cause that is becoming close to my heart. My aim, therefore, is to run the Llanelli Half Marathon in February, the Newport Half in March, and the Bristol 10k in May next year. That’s a rough total of 50 kilometres in total.

The cause that I will be seeking to raise some money for is the Alzheimer’s Society. My dad is living with a form of vascular dementia probably linked to a stroke getting on for 10 year’s ago now. Thankfully, whilst his speech has been badly affected, he is still able to follow conversation and enjoys a good quality of life. This is in large part due to the indefatigable love and support of my mum. Taking my dad as my inspiration, raising money to support research into the causes of and treatments for dementia disease is the best motivation that I can think of to continue on my own road to running recovery. More details of where you can sponsor me will follow later in the month!

Introducing Flo

At about this time last year, I wrote about the psychological warfare that was being waged against me by my wife and daughter in pursuit of their goal of securing agreement to us buying a dog. It was a carefully orchestrated campaign, and one that led to a final, grudging acknowledgement that a dog might be a good thing for us to own at some future point.

Fast forward twelve months, and I am delighted to confirm that my resolve has held firm. We still don’t have a dog. We are though, some four months into a house share with a far more manipulative addition to the family.

Introducing Flo.

Flo (or Florence to give her her full name) is a British Blue, a short hair breed that loses very little hair and so meets the dual test for any four legged incomer to this house : maximum cuteness and minimum stimulation of allergic reaction!

It’s fair to say that Flo pretty much now rules our house in a way that I would have thought unthinkable when we first brought her home. She spent the first two hours with us hiding under the sideboard in the living room but she has definitely found her feet since. There is literally nowhere that is now out of bounds to her.

I’ll be honest, I never considered myself to the sort of person who’d end up with part-ownership of a cat. Having been allergic to fur since childhood, even spending time in a house where there’s a cat usually leads to much sneezing and wheezing. I’d looked on cats as being somewhat aloof. However, I’m increasingly coning around to the idea that you don’t really ever own a cat. Rather, the cat becomes the centre of the home, deigning to all you to share her space – but always on her terms. Jean Cocteau describes this co-existence perfectly : “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”

However, it is H.P. Lovecraft who perhaps best sums up what it is to share your life with a cat : “In its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered, and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown.”

In case it’s not already abundantly clear, I’m smitten with our kitten!