A Sad Day

Published on 08. Mar, 2013 by in Family

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Today, very sadly, my Grandad, Edwin Palmer, passed away. He had been quite unwell for some time, and reached a very good age, but the inevitability of the event does not prevent those who loved him feeling very sad right now.

Jon, my brother, put it very well: he was a good man.

Edwin Palmer, Grandad, a good man.

Edwin Palmer, Grandad, a good man.

For me, the thing I will remember most about my Grandad was his contentedness with life. Until the last few months, where his general poor health had made his quality of life very hard even for him to bear, he was a man who was so genuinely pleased with his lot in life that he was an inspiration to us all. For Grandad the thing that made him happiest was having his wonderful wife (my Nan, Doreen) and his two daughters (my Mum and Aunt) and their families around him. Ultimately he realised a lesson that no doubt many of us struggle to recognise: there is nothing of more value in life than the time and love of your family.

Like many working class men of his generation, Grandad did not get the opportunities that we are fortunate enough to take for granted these days. As a young man he did not enjoy an extended education. Instead at the earliest possible age he signed up to fight in the second world war. Unlike many of his generation, he was fortunate not to have been embroiled too deeply in front line service, and escaped being haunted by all that that entailed. However, just like all others at that time, he did lose many friends and companions who he had trained with. I am sure this helped him to have that perspective in life where he truly understood the important things.

Throughout life Grandad worked hard to provide for his family and improve their circumstances. He was a very practical man who was very good at fixing things. I also remember him as a keen gardener, growing his own fruit and vegetables; a man who loved playing his piano to his family; a fisherman (who, through frequent trips together in my teens, taught me everything I know about how not to catch fish); a man who took great care of his car and later his bicycle; a man who loved a small flutter on the horses; a man who loved to have a lunchtime pint in his local with his friends; and a fine supporter of my football teams as I was growing up.

Grandad confided that his one wish in life was that he had had a better education. Some people may have just left it at that but instead he set about learning French after his retirement and taking every opportunity he could to try to get his young grandson to explain algebra to him. He was immensely proud of the achievements of both his daughters and his grandchildren. Of course, like any of us he was also not without fault, for example he could sometimes be opinionated and stubborn. But even those traits were put to good measure when expressing his fierce loyalty and pride in those who he loved the most, or fighting back from two heart attacks in my early childhood, and a number of strokes in my late teens to have comparatively good health well into his eighties.

Perhaps his true love in life however, was his wonderful wife, my Nan. Having been together for an incomprehensible 65 years, no-one will miss my Grandad more than her. They were a pair, and they were devoted to each other throughout their life. They were each other’s reason for being. For me their love for each other provides daily inspiration for my own marriage. As Grandad passed away today Nan was bereft, like a lady stepping out into the big wide world on her own for the very first time. We have a lot to do to make Nan feel as loved as she was by Grandad.

We live in a time where the demands of modern life allow us to make excuses for losing perspective of what is important. We think we have important jobs. Many have commuter lifestyles. We constantly strive for recognition amongst our colleagues or peers. We are always looking at the future, or even the past, often without really taking the time to appreciate the present. Grandad was a man who understood that sometimes the most valuable things in life are simple. He could recognise happiness and knew when he had attained it.

For that, and for many other things, he will be loved and missed by his family for the rest of our lives. That is his big gift to me.

He was a good man.

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Oh what a night!

Published on 05. Aug, 2012 by in Holiday, Olympics, Wendy

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I haven’t blogged for an age now (although there have been many half-posts that sit in the drafts section along the way) but right now I am sufficiently caught up in the moment that I wanted to record how I feel right now so I can look back in future years and remember this experience. This comes with a health warning though: it’s a very long one!

What has shaken me out of my silence and compelled me to write? You guessed it: Olympic fever!

As I write I am (once again) on the train. But unlike my commutes of past times, I am now sat in First Class, early on a Sunday morning, on the way to pick up Millie and Harry from their Grandma and Grandad Turner. Wendy and I are at the end of 3 days of Hastie Olympic madness where we have seen a selection of sports many of which in no other context would we have decided to buy tickets to watch. Combined with the children being safely deposited at their wonderful Grandparents (all having a wail of a time by the sound of our phone conversations and Skype!) our 3 days of Olympics fun, staying in a hotel in London to add to the experience, have been incredible.

Over the three days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we have seen a session of swimming, the womens all-round gymnastics final, beach volleyball and rounded it all off with one of the most phenomenal nights in recent British Olympic history, at the Olympic Stadium, watching the athletics.

Being just over half way through the games, with one week left to go, my overriding thoughts are that they have been a phenomenal success so far. London and UK should be proud of the how smoothly everything has run. Everyone is friendly and helpful (not something that is commonly associated with London) and the whole logistics and process of transporting, handling, and checking the masses arriving to and leaving from the many Olympic venues each day has been incredibly efficient. Of course the credit goes largely to the organisers, but two other special groups should not be forgotten as they are both doing a fantastic job. Without the general good spirits and friendliness of the volunteers along with the unswerving professionalism of the Armed Forces, the experience would not be the same.

Personally, the experience of watching this array of sports, combined with having a substantial period of grown-up time with my lovely wife has made me very happy. While it seems we have been very lucky to have tickets to all these events, in fact we were no luckier than most others in the Olympic ballot, as we managed to secure only a couple of sessions that were very low priority on the (very long) list that we requested. However, listening to the press mentioning European websites selling the tickets (with only a small handling fee on top of face value) we had soon amassed a few more tickets to some excellent events.

Gymnastics – suitably pink!

Of all the events that we have seen, only swimming disappointed, and I think that may largely have been because my expectations were high. The pool and the venue were incredible, I think what was missing was the fact that our session contained only heats: no finals or semi-finals. And however much you want to applaud the taking part, and recognise the achievement of the athletes given their personal circumstances, watching 10 minutes of a lady from Djibouti completing the 800m freestyle is not compelling viewing. Nonetheless, there were highlights, and I can now say I have seen Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, and Rebecca Addlington swim (and they’re all pretty good at it actually).

Since that first session of the swimming, I have loved everything else. Gymnastics was truly incredible, seeing ladies, many of them only children, performing such incredible feats of athleticism, strength, balance and grace was awe inspiring. If ever there was a sport that I knew I would never have been able to do, gymnastics is it (oh, and climbing). Beach volleyball was also amazing although probably not for the obvious reasons that the dirty old men amongst you are currently sniggering at like school boys. Instead, it was the carnival atmosphere of the whole sport that captured my imagination, and ramped up my enjoyment. Added to this was the realisation that this really was a sporting event, and some of the athleticism, skill and reaction times that the athletes were demonstrating were the result of many hours training and dedication.

Beach volleyball – a true sport!

As our days have gone by what has added to the experience of hosting an Olympics is how successful Team GB have been. Currently third in the medal table, with a level of dominance in cycling and rowing that governing associations should attempt to emulate in other sports, it has been compelling to watch session after session peppered with British medals. Whether the feel-good factor of hosting the games would be quite the same without the success is a question that we will never definitively know the answer to, but could make a decent guess at. Whatever they teach you at school, taking part is important, but it is succeeding that really makes the difference.

Nothing encapsulated this more than the final session of our Olympic extravaganza, in the athletics stadium last night, Super Saturday. I have been fortunate enough to go to some big stadiums and to witness some incredible sporting events but nothing has ever compared to the atmosphere and crescendo of being in the Olympic stadium last night.

We had fantastic seats (they weren’t cheap) that were about 30m from the long jump pit, where we knew two British athletes were competing in the final. What we didn’t expect was that one of them would win gold, and that every time the other jumped it also felt like he had a real chance. To see a British Gold being achieved in an event we were not expected to win was very special.

But not quite as special as the incredible 800m that Jessica Ennis ran to secure her Heptathlon gold medal. I am not an expert in the 800m or heptathlon, and many wiser people will write many wiser words than I possibly could. But to see her kick in, in the last 200m and storm past the field, as the crowd was on their feet literally screaming her home to a personal best and a completely dominant gold medal was breathtaking. The pressure that she has had to endure as the poster girl of the games is something that we cannot possibly imagine as non-athletes. But she was the poster girl for a reason, because she had proven herself to be world class, and able to deal with that pressure. Her achievements throughout the seven events were beyond compare. The release of emotion during the victory ceremony, at the very end of the night, was palpable, the majority of the 80,000 people in the stadium swelling with pride.

The calm before the gold rush storm

And just when we were revelling in the shared joy of watching two Team GB golds, along came Mo Farah. For me this was the pinnacle. 10,000m is a long event. The world record is over 26 minutes. But that is what made it so incredible to watch, 25 laps around the stadium, building gradually, until the noise in the final two laps was deafening. During the last 400m where Mo kicked in and dug out a significant lead, I don’t think I have ever screamed so much and so loudly at a live sporting event and yet been so unheard in the cacophony of noise. The shouts, cheers and beaming smiles are something that will live with me for a very very long time. Words cannot describe that atmosphere (even though I have written many here!) I just wish I could have bottled it and taken it with me to open at later times when I needed to be perked up and reminded about all that could be good in sport!

For me, last night was everything that was good about sport. Everyone knows that I love football, but in so many ways witnessing last night felt so much better, so much rawer. This was not about money or egos, fame or fortune, this was people doing the event that they loved, to compete, to win, to be the best in their chosen sport that they possibly could. There are many things that they could teach footballers.

The whole few days have felt like a proper holiday. Partially this has been having time away from the children although everyone knows how special they are to us. While we have missed them a lot, it is also lovely to have some time away from the routines that come with the territory, and knowing that they have been having a truly lovely time with their Grandma and Grandad makes their absence considerably easier. And for the first time since starting Onside Analysis, I feel like I have managed to properly escape work for a few days, letting go of trying to sort the bits and pieces and all the concerns that come with owning and running a business.

Maybe that is why there were so many smiles last night. Of course, as mentioned above, a key factor has been the success of the British team and the ability to punch above their weight. On the other hand, if we get philosophical and question the more general benefit of sport to the human race, one very important consideration must be the escapism it provides. Marvelling at humans competing at the very boundaries of their physical capabilities and succeeding gives us a feeling of collective enjoyment; shared experiences and belonging. By seeing something so removed from the experiences of regular daily life we can live in the moment and forget everything else.

In a time of economic recession, when many people are struggling this should not be undervalued. The Olympics may not directly increase the economy in the ways anticipated when the city bid for the games (it appears the greater tourism spend is not really materialising) but the intangible feel-good factor will undoubtedly have an effect. Personally, I strongly believe that not everything should be translated into monetary terms, and while the investment and cost of hosting the games may outweigh the overall income in both the short and long term, I am so glad that I have had this life experience of witnessing a host nation games.

Fortunately, there is a week still to go. And in that week I’ll be lucky enough to see some more athletics, some basketball and some boxing, and I just can’t wait. But could it possibly surpass how I feel about the games right now? I doubt it!

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Inspiring men

Published on 27. May, 2012 by in Charity

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Earlier this week I had a very special day, having had the opportunity to have lunch in the presence of some really really remarkable people. To say that I was inspired would be an understatement.

The occasion that I have been celebrating was a Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Vice-President’s lunch to mark the 90th year of Lord Walton of Detchant. Now, if like me before this week, you know little about John Walton, let me fill you in. Lord Walton is a politician and quite a lot more. Sitting as a cross bencher in the House of Lords, Lord Walton is a peer from a humble upbringing whose career has been dedicated to medicine, with a primary focus on research into Muscular Dystrophy.

Lord Walton of Detchant

A founder of the Muscular Dystrophy Group (the predecessor of MDC) Lord Walton has been at the forefront of the considerable work that took the condition from being very poorly understood to where it is now, on the verge of developing promising treatments to manage the disease. At 90 years old, I believe Lord Walton remains a practicing physician and clinician. He has been president of almost every prestigious body in the world of medicine, but most remarkably his enthusiasm for the cause appears undiminished.

The tributes at the lunch, from those who know him and those with far more expertise in his field than I could ever have, were effusive. Clearly he is regarded as an incredible man, a very good friend and a living legend of neuro-muscular medicine. To give some impression of his esteem, the patron of MDC, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh managed to take time out of what must be an incredibly busy schedule to spend two hours having lunch with Lord Walton and the 50 or so key MDC supporters  gathered for the event at the Royal Society. Another remarkable nonogenerian, Prince Philip clearly held Lord Walton in high affection.

Perhaps the most remarkable testament to Lord Walton is to hear him address a room, without a microphone, and recount anecdotes of his work, and the fight against Muscular Dystrophy. I don’t know many 90 year olds, but if there is one who is more eloquent and inspiring I would be astonished. His rallying call to all those assembled for his lunch really hit a chord: “thank you for all your hard work over the years, now if you could all just try your best to work a little harder”.

Another key speaker during the afternoon was Michael Attenborough, speaking on behalf of his father Sir Richard Attenborough, a key supporter and Life President of MDC. Although Dicky Attenborough is now quite poorly following a fall a few years ago, what came across was the incredible commitment to the cause that the early founders and supporters of MDC made. It is no exaggeration to say that they dedicated a significant chunk of their life to the charity and to improving the lives of those affected by Muscular Dystrophy.

But what of the future? While these are remarkable guys who have achieved and contributed so much, they have already enjoyed remarkable longevity. The lunch, more than ever, made me realise the importance of my commitment to the cause. To survive, charities need a continuous feed of people willing to take up the baton as the previous generation moves on. I want to be one of those people.

I am proud to say I am already working to be increasingly involved with the charity and hope to do more and more as time goes by. As with all charities in the current economic climate, cashflow can be the biggest challenge. Fundraising, and particularly asking anyone for money is not something that comes easily to me. But I understand that the great work that Lord Walton and others have achieved will only progress if people (like me)  who want to do as much as they can for the cause, also share responsibility for securing funds.  Beyond my obvious personal involvement with MDC, I really believe that it is making meaningful differences to many people affected by the numerous conditions it supports.

So if in coming months or years I come to you (my friends) with another ask, for some new event that I am helping to fundraise for, and it doesn’t seem long after the ask before, please have patience and understand my motivation. It genuinely won’t be an ask for any personal gain (even indirectly, because sadly, promising as these pioneering potential treatments are, we all realise that is very unlikely that they will be developed soon enough to have an impact on Jon’s condition).

Of course, I appreciate that everyone is feeling the effects of the current economic difficulties and there is not a lot of spare money. Just as I am asking you to understand me sending such asks, I will also completely understand that people will only be able or want to support a selection. So if you receive a request please don’t feel any burden of expectation, other than that you will read it, consider it and make whatever decision is right for you, your families and your circumstances at the time.

So, is anyone up for a nice Christmas sing song? Watch this space for more details of  a south coast Spirit of Christmas concert in the theme of Similar existing events in Oxford and Gloucester. And now to think up some more events….

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No time to chat

Published on 13. May, 2012 by in Family, Harry, Millie, Onside Analysis, Time, Wendy

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If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you are probably aware that at the beginning of the year I committed to writing more frequently, having struggled to provide even a monthly post last year. In fact, in my eagerness, I became so confident in my abilities that I decided to try to write 52 posts this year. In breaking news, I can now report that this isn’t going to happen.

Millie is very taken with farm life. She asked me to retrain.

Since leaving Imperial at the end of March, lots has changed in my life, not least being fortunate to have abandoned the regular commute. The downside of this is that without my commute, I am finding no time to write. In fact, as it happens, I am writing right now from the train, on one of my rarer sorties into London.

Setting up a new business is somewhat consuming. This has not really come as a huge surprise, I knew what I was getting into, but nonetheless I don’t think I realised quite how much my time would be reduced for little things like blog writing. The good news is that things at Onside Analysis are shaping up nicely and we are very excited about what is on the horizon; we really think that putting the hard graft and effort in here will lead to some exciting results in the not too distant future.

But, back to my life, adding in the work with MDC and other activities (the most recent being my very enjoyable coaching course), what time is left is very little. Poor Wendy and the kids are struggling to get  my attention, albeit as always without complaint, but clearly my priority needs to be spending what time I do have with my family rather than indulgently writing to myself and the handful of other kind people who every so often read these words.

I’m not immodest enough to think that anyone will care all that much about this. Whether I write every week, month or just a few times a year doesn’t have any cosmic repercussions. Interestingly, when I look at the traffic that visits my site, when I used to write rarely I had a lot more readers of the blog than when I wrote every week. This might suggest that increased frequency has come at the expense of quality, or that if I write too often people finally become aware that there is nothing of importance being said. Either way, the extra commitment of writing regularly for a diminishing readership is unappealing.

My big little boy is 2!

All this said, it’s important to say that it’s not going to be the end of the blog altogether, as it is still a very enjoyable way to spend a train journey. Also, I still have plenty to write about. Since my last post I have been busy on my football coaching course (where I have learned plenty); been lambing for the second year in a row (once again a very enjoyable experience); been to the Crucible to watch the snooker (including a great view from the commentary box courtesy of Willie Thorne) and had little Harry H’s magical second birthday. These have all been exciting experiences, that if time permitted would provide plenty of material for writing about. Such things are going to continue, so there will always be things for me to write about.

For now I’ll just observe what fun we had, and draw to a close. The train is pulling into the station you see, and another busy day (for which I am already an hour late) is about to get going. I’ll see you when I see you, and post this blog when I get the chance…

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Coach Hastie

Published on 28. Apr, 2012 by in Family, Football, Harry, Millie, Personality, Wendy

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I’m writing today feeling quite excited. Tomorrow I begin something that I’m really looking forward to. Tomorrow, at 9:30am on what promises to be a very wet Sunday, I am beginning a first session in a Level 1 football coaching course.

Boots and ball

Despite my enthusiasm, people who know me might suspect that coaching will not be for me. I would guess that people might think I would not particularly excel at teaching people to do something, especially if they don’t get it first time. You see, amongst my friends, I am not renowned for my patience.

My reputation is not without cause. I am happy to acknowledge that a lack of patience is a serious flaw in my personality. The good news in this is that my intolerance is not universal. The bad news is that sadly, the people who are most precious to me, Wendy, the kids and my family, often bear the brunt of this behaviour. It’s not that I get on with my family less than others, it’s just that if you spend a lot of time in the company of the same people, you tend to become hyper aware of things that annoy you.

Of course, while it might not be a suitable defence, I might argue that sometimes my response is not without provocation. Anyone who has young children will realise that however much you love and adore them, they know exactly how to press the buttons to wind you up. Some people (like Wendy) are better able to deal with it than others (like me).

And don’t get me started on the dog. Just come on a regular walk with me and watch my stress levels rise. Anyone who has not looked after Mtani will argue that dogs can’t be malicious or deliberately misbehave. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has looked after her for a few days who hasn’t quickly reviewed their opinions. In fairness to her, a lot of her misbehaviour is just “being a dog”. This doesn’t really make it much easier to deal with, for example if after calling her for more than 15 minutes, you traipse through the undergrowth into a stream to find her gnawing on a dear carcass it is hard to not be a little cross (that was last Saturday).

Regardless, I do realise that amusing as anecdotes about the causes of my stress may be, actually being there and experiencing it really isn’t fun for anyone. All I can say is  I’m aware of it, and I am trying to encourage myself on a daily basis to respond better to these little episodes of adversity.

Back to the coaching. It turns out, in a professional environment or with strangers, the feedback I have received from various different appraisals really doesn’t record any stress or impatience in my dealing with people. And actually I have had some experience teaching, both in academia and in a work environment, and it appears that overall the people I have taught have given me lots of great feedback. Of course, like everything in my life, there is plenty of room for improvement, but at least I haven’t been a complete flop.

So let’s see how tomorrow goes. I’d love it to be a success, because I love the idea of helping people to enjoy the beautiful game as much as I do. And if as a coach one day I do manage to come across and help to coach a player who can be a better player than I ever could, all the better.

I’m sure Wendy wants me to succeed too, after all not only is it the first of three Sundays that I am giving up to do this coaching course, it is also our sixth wedding anniversary. My wonderful wife has put up with my quirks and foibles for the last six years, almost never complaining. What a very lucky man I am.

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Super Jon

Published on 21. Apr, 2012 by in Charity, Family, Jon, Muscular Dystrophy

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Not a long post this one today, but just a few words to once again celebrate how lucky I am to have such an inspirational brother!

If somehow you’ve missed it, my little brother has recently been making himself somewhat of a media superstar.

As most of you know, over the last year, Jon and a team of fantastically talented and generous film makers have been working on his documentary film “A Life Worth Living“. For any first time readers (I think this might be flattering myself to believe that such people exist), ALWL is a film about Jon’s road trip around the UK and continental Europe, meeting other adults living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy leading inspiring lives.

The great news is that the project has been a great success. Whilst we are continuing to work to raise the funds that the project needs for the distribution of the film, and taking the production through the final phases, I have now seen the final version of the film and it is a great piece of work.  With the first invitation-only screening of the final documentary due next month, and another screening in the Houses of Parliament in July it is almost ready for public viewing. A short 6 minute version taken from the film is below.

Unfortunately, the key word in the above paragraph is “almost”. Because of the constraints of the film festivals that Jon and the team are entering the documentary into, we are not permitted to hold a general-admission film premiere in advance, or even sell any DVDs, until the festivals are complete.  The good news is that if you can just wait, you can pre-order DVD’s from the site.

Fortunately Jon has not let these hurdles stop him from spreading the word about DMD and raising the profile. In the last month, Jon has been on both Channel 4 news at 7pm (see video below)  and Embarrassing Bodies. For the charities that have supported the project and that support sufferers and families of this condition (the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign and Action Duchenne) this has been fantastic exposure.


And for Jon there has been some excellent feedback too. Everyone I have spoken to who has seen the clips has said what an inspirational person Jon is, and what an incredible achievement the film is. I couldn’t agree more, and I am very proud to have someone making such a difference in so many people’s lives as my brother. Indeed, weekends like this one, where a chest infection has meant that Jon has had to cancel a trip to the Netherlands for a screening and a talk at a company that has supported the project, come as a stark reminder of how restricting Jon’s condition really is, given how much he normally achieves.

The superstardom won’t stop here I’m sure. On the back of his recent media appearances he has been invited by Airbus to give a motivational talk to their managers in Toulouse: a gig usually reserved for some very high profile speakers. I really hope this is the start of many more exciting things to come that ultimately raise the profile of Muscular Dystrophy and ultimately help to raise funds for a very worth cause, improving many people’s lives in the future.

 

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Where’ve you been?

Published on 21. Apr, 2012 by in Family, Friends, Harry, Holiday, Millie

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I suppose, more accurately the question should be: where have I been? With the relative regularity of posts in the first few months of this year, the last few weeks have been somewhat barren.  With my new job starting, and particularly working from home, the opportunities to write have somewhat diminished. As predicted, the lack of train journeys means that writing a post requires a conscious effort to sit down and dedicate some time to the purpose, and as most of you know, when you have a young family, this is not the most straightforward of things. However, in truth the real reason for a few absent posts is simple: we’ve been busy doing nice things like going on holiday!

Without even completing a single week sitting at my desk working on Onside Analysis business, Easter crept up on me and threw lots of bank holidays my way, curtailing the working week.

The Easter Bunny was kind

This year we had a real Easter treat, not only did the Easter Bunny visit, but more excitingly (at least for us grown ups, and I think even the kids) our good friends Sandra and Steve visited us over the Easter weekend, as part of their visit from their home in Boston to a friend’s wedding. I met Sandra and Steve in the 6 winter months I spent during my Ph.D. studying at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Sandra was one of the housemates of a good friend, Sarah, who I met playing football, and who happily introduced me, a geeky English maths student,  to her wonderful group of friends.

I often wonder what makes a great group of friends, and I think throughout my life I have been pretty lucky in this respect. I would say I have 3 core groups of friends in my life, and that is without counting some wonderful friendships I made at Smartodds. First there are my very close friends, who I met at school, most of them at Vale School who I have known since the age of 5. Second off are my University friends, most of whom were all flatmates from our first year halls of residence. Finally, I have my Wisconsin friends.

Of Sarah’s house, I am in regular touch with most of them, with Sandra and Steve, Michelle and Tyler, and Kate also having been over to stay with us in the UK. I am yet to convince Sarah and Dan (and their little Will) to make the journey across the pond, but in truth I think with the number of people who have been kind enough to visit us, it must be our turn to head over there. Plus we have babies to introduce now. I haven’t yet met Will, or Michelle and Tyler’s Muriel, and Millie and Harry are yet to meet many of the gang. Sadly, not everyone is based in Wisconsin any more, with the housemates now dispersed over a number of states, making the logistics of the visit (at least with young children) a little difficult. Add in the fact the my poor American friends get very limited holiday time (10 days a year is considered generous), and organising such a meeting becomes hard.

The good news is, even though we don’t see each other very often, when we do it is lovely to spend time with all of them. You can tell that friendships are strong when, after a lengthy time apart, you can pick up like you saw these people last week. That was exactly what it was like with Sandra and Steve, and we had some lovely time exploring our area, and in particular visiting English pubs and eating English food.

There are pirates in Cornwall

As soon as Sandra and Steve were on their way, we went for our own Easter holidays, down to the Sands Resort in Newquay, North Cornwall. Now, if you have young children and your life revolves around them (as ours does), I simply can’t recommend the Sands highly enough. It was a wonderful place with so much for the kids to do, kids clubs, fantastic (young) children’s evening entertainment, and all less than 5 minutes walk to wonderful beaches. The added bonus was services like baby listening that allowed us to have grown up time and nice food in the excellent hotel restaurant every evening. On the other hand, if you are at that equally wonderful stage of life where it is yours to enjoy and does not have to fit around children’s routines, then I’d strongly suggest the Sands is not for you. We watched on the Saturday night that we were there as a young couple drove up in their car for what looked like a romantic evening away. I would only say I hope they liked room service and each other’s company, because I’m sure that sharing meal times with squawking children was not exactly what they had in mind.

I was surprised by quite how much I loved Cornwall. While I am not always the most relaxed person, and sometimes the constant demands of looking after children can exacerbate my impatience, the wonderful setting and fantastic active Cornish way of life helped me to adjust to the situation (albeit after a day or two). We were also incredibly lucky with the weather, and although we had rain on most days, they were true April showers, and were interspersed with plenty of lovely sunny periods. I was also surprised by how quickly we got there – I was anticipating a journey of over 6 hours, and our driving time was just over 4. Not as far as you think! All in all I can see us spending a lot more time there as the kids grow up, enjoying active holidays all the way!

But all good things come to an end. Well holidays at least. So here I am, back in the real world. Millie has returned to school, and I’m finally looking at an open road ahead with Onside Analysis. That should keep me going until the next holiday, and there’ll be plenty of blogs in between.

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Time to adjust

Published on 04. Apr, 2012 by in Family, Harry, Millie, Onside Analysis

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It’s nearly holiday time! Hold on, I’m less than two weeks into my new job, and they’re letting me take a week (plus Easter) off on holiday – who exactly are this incredible company that I’m working for? Oh, yes, it’s Onside Analysis, and I just so happen to be my own boss!

Actually, despite the impression from the first paragraph, I am probably working harder than I have for quite a while. I have a lot to do, and my business partner Rob is relying on my contribution, and I just love getting my teeth into a challenge like this. Sometimes the hard part is switching off my computer in the evening and finishing for the day.

Before I go on holiday, I think it is time to write a blog, and I thought I’d write a few words on my adjustment to my new life. In fact, last week was not really a typical first week, as I spent most of the time in Derbyshire and Manchester, the latter half of the week being at the SoccerEx conference, a gathering aimed at officials, clubs and companies in and around the football industry. It was a very interesting week, and once again we had noticeable interest in our ideas and business, but it really did make us want to go away and really focus on spending the next few months building the products to demonstrate the ideas that we are promoting.

Millie and the boys for Danny G's birthday

Regardless of how interesting the week away was, it did not really feel like the start of a new routine, largely because what we were doing was not what I expect to be doing on a daily basis. It was a week away from home, followed by a lovely weekend, with a trip to London Zoo with the Stratfords and the Greaves to celebrate the super Danny G’s birthday, before going to see my Mum and Dad on Sunday, just before my Mum’s birthday this week.

The new week has been different, and I have slowly been getting used to my new role, my new environment, and not having to commute for more than 3 hours each day. And I’m enjoying it very much! Actually, given the flexibility of my position at Imperial, it probably has not yet sunk in, as there were often weeks where my supervisor was away, and I didn’t go into the office very often at those times. It still feels like maybe next week, or in two weeks I’ll be back to the old routine and having to curtail the exciting work that I am getting to do now, to pick up some other components of a job that someone else determines are the most important.

One of the strangest things to get used to is seeing more of my children. In fact, my days have not been much shorter, given that I am working so hard on the new business. However, it being the Easter holidays means that both of the children are around pretty much all the time, with both school and their regular extra curricular activities postponed for the duration. What does that mean in practice, well a lot more noise than I am used to, but also both of them popping into Daddy’s office every so often to say hello, or having lunch with them as well as breakfast. It is those little things that are really nice.

Other things that I am noticing are changes in the children. Harry for one is developing his speech every day and has started singing; he even tries to copy Millie when she is counting, playing hide-and-seek for example. And they are playing together more and more, and as a parent I’m not sure there is anything more heartwarming than seeing your children having fun together, independent of you.

Another factor that I am particularly enjoying is Millie’s entrepreneurial spirit. Recently Millie has taken an interest in buying things. But while we are in a hugely fortunate position, for us it is very important that she learns the value of money. It seems very early for lessons like this at age four, but with a continued desire to do things to help Mummy and Daddy, and the want to spend money, Millie has started doing the odd thing for a little bit of pocket money each week. For every day she lays the table in the morning, and makes her bed and folds her pyjamas she receives 10p per task. It normally works out at about £1.00 a week. Not mega-bucks but more than enough for a 4 year old. But she has started negotiating trying to get more money in return for doing more jobs. She has offered to clean the car twice this week, and to wash the windows 3 times. The latter she reasoned was because they were dirty. Her downfall was because she mentioned that the reason for this was because had been licked, by her. In a way I wanted to reward this incredible innovative approach, but as a parent I can’t reward her for going around licking windows.

Of course, when Millie goes back to school and term time begins, it will change again, and I’ll get a better idea of what my routine is really like. It might be lonely after this holiday time company. I might have to speak to the postman every morning just to get some human interaction. But in truth, I’m sure it will be just fine, and I can’t wait to push this project on!

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Slightly cheating

Published on 22. Mar, 2012 by in Family, Friends, Onside Analysis

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So I promised to write 52 blogs this year. And so far I’ve been more or less keeping it up. But interest must surely be waning in anything I have to say, and to be honest as I begin to write my post each week, I rarely have any idea what I am going to say. So this week I am going to keep it brief. Succinct. To the Point….ok, ok, enough already.

Jacob Stratford and Millie sharing the love.

Today instead of writing more words about nothing in particular I am going to simply put up a picture from last week, when we had a house full of friends over for Friday night. It was lovely to catch up with everyone, with a special visit from our friends Mike and Rach who were over from the US. Getting together as a big group is something that we get to do far too rarely. Sadly, the night ended somewhat prematurely with Millie succumbing to the sickness bug, requiring a major clean up operation, but not before lots of fun had been had by all.

And in addition to this limited offering, if you really are suffering withdrawal symptoms, you can find a lengthy post about sports analytics that I wrote for the Onside Analysis blog. Please have a read and feel free to share it with anyone you think might be interested.

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It’s not academic

Published on 19. Mar, 2012 by in Imperial, Onside Analysis

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Another eventful week has passed, although unfortunately this last week has not been as pleasant as I might have hoped. The reason for this was that the recent phase of Hastie illnesses claimed its next victim, dealing me a nice bout of gastroenteritis at the beginning of the week. Of course, I will spare you any details, other than saying it is astonishing just how much you can sleep in 24 hours when your body shuts down non-vital systems to fight a bug. Fortunately, my energy levels seem pretty much recovered and while my stomach is yet to return to normal, the more extreme physical symptoms have gladly now departed.

Once again I am beginning this post on my morning commute. However, this is likely to be my penultimate train penned blog because I have only one week left at Imperial. It is hard to believe I will have been there for nearly 21 months.

The decision to first apply for, and then accept, a position at Imperial was not an easy one. When I resigned at Smartodds in November 2009 with a six month notice period to serve, I was unsure of what would come next. There were only two things that really interested me; work that I felt could provide me with the same degree of autonomy as I had been fortunate enough to experience at Smartodds (at least in the earlier days). However, the two options were quite different. One was running my own business, the other was returning to academia.

I certainly had ambitions of managing my own business, I just lacked conviction on exactly what it would do. I had ideas that it might realistically be statistical and software based, but also harboured more innovative start up ideas, whilst realising that I lacked the experience or network to make such fancies succeed.

I also knew that there were many things I enjoyed about academia, and realised I would benefit from the change of environment and refreshed ideas and research methods that a sojourn back in such a post would offer. In the end, perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the steps of setting up a business I decided to go for academia.

I applied for a couple of lectureship positions, well aware that my application stood almost no chance, as (strangely in my opinion) published journal articles are really the only measure that are given any weight when shortlisting candidates. Of course, I heard nothing back. When I saw the advert at Imperial, I applied immediately: it seemed like the ideal opportunity. A position with an excellent professor, specialising in research methods very much aligned with my Ph.D. research, in a department and university that have an excellent reputation. Perhaps the real appeal however, was the fact that it was a short fixed-term contract. If returning to academia really wasn’t for me then there would be a natural way out at the end. And by applying and going through the recruitment process it didn’t mean I had to take the job.

Probably a large part of the reason that my application was successful was down to a lack of pressure. Like everything I do, I went in to the interview well prepared, but I certainly wasn’t desperate to get the job. I was therefore able to relax in the interview. Add in my experience at Smartodds, and the fact I had done many interviews from the other side of the table, and I probably wasn’t the usual freshly qualified postdoctoral candidate.

For whatever reason they offered me the job. Coming out of interview I had the feeling it had been a success, but I wasn’t expecting a job offer within a few hours. I remember getting the message while on a train, and I still remember not knowing what to do. It is very flattering to feel wanted, but I did have reservations that if I didn’t take the opportunity to start a business now then maybe that opportunity would not arise again. In the end, Wendy seemed so genuinely pleased for me that I had the offer, that her enthusiasm rubbed off and I took the plunge.

21 months down the line it is clear that academia is not the way forward for me. Perhaps partially my heart was not ever fully in it, but I like to think that I worked hard and tried to engage myself in the work. I am happy with my contribution, and have certainly enjoyed aspects. One of the great things was the removal of any managerial responsibilities, allowing my time to be dedicated to my research. While I enjoy being a manager, it has been nice to actually have the opportunity to learn new things, but then also put them into practice on challenging problems. Certainly for my personal development the role has served a purpose.

On the flip side of this, it has sometimes been frustrating to be in a position which carries practically zero authority. Of course, by working hard and doing the job well, people begin to realise that you can make a contribution, but naturally that takes a long time to build up, and the sphere of influence is limited. This has been particularly frustrating when watching the huge inefficiencies and bad practices endemic in much of academia.

Another aspect of my decision was my lack of desire to be involved in the politics of being a successful academic. Of course all jobs have a level of politics, but for whatever reason the politics of business feel more natural to me.

I guess part of this is the realisation that to excel in academia you must typically specialise in an incredibly limited area. This is not surprising, given that your role is literally pushing the boundaries of human knowledge in your chosen area. There are other possibilities: some people are happy to forego being the leading expert in an area, in return for being able to focus on broader research or even teaching (non-academics may be surprised to realise just how much teaching is considered an necessary inconvenience rather than an important part of the role). Others truly are geniuses and can be leading experts in a multitude of fields. (Relative) mediocrity does not appeal to me, nor does obsessive research into a very narrowed field, but regrettably experience has taught me there are many many people more intelligent than me in academia, and so I am never going to fall into the genius class.

Undoubtedly other factors have influenced my decision. As much as anything, my unusual career path has meant that I have never really felt like I have fitted in at Imperial. I don’t think I am really very different to my postdoctoral colleagues and peers, and certainly have no delusion of being “better” than them, I am simply a little bit older and therefore a bit further down life’s path. For example, I live outside London and at the end of the day or week, my overriding desire is not to get to the pub for a beer, but to hop on the train to be back in time for my kids bedtime. It was also never the plan to move to Cranleigh for a life of commuting back into London. Who knows if my reasoning is influenced or reinforced by this consideration. Perhaps if the University of Surrey in Guildford had a thriving statistics department my hangups with academia would dissolve.

The good news is, in fact, rather than stifling my ambitions of company ownership my time in academia has allowed it to grow, but more importantly to focus. The result is Onside Analysis, and I am desperate to throw myself into this full time now, rather than just the hours here and there at evenings and weekends that I have been able to give to date.

Of course, the challenges of running a business will be plenty, and I do not underestimate them. But that is the subject for a future post. Regardless, I am excited. And here is hopefully some indication that this is the righ choice for me: my six months notice at Smartodds really dragged, with nothing to keep me going than my day job. On the other hand, I told Imperial I would leave at the end of my contract more than 10 months ago, and for the last 6 I have known Onside Analysis will be the next step. But this time has flown by. Why? Because every spare moment I have I want to work on Onside Analysis stuff.  Which leaves me with just 3 words. Bring it on!

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