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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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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Let it snow

Published on 08. Feb, 2012 by in Family, Harry, Millie

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As I begin writing this post, I am huddled in a crowded train corridor, desperately hoping that tapping out words on my phone might breathe some warmth back into my fingers.

Once again this morning it is cold. Now clearly I shouldn’t be surprised by this, it being early February and pretty much the depth of English winter, but given how mild we have had the weather until the last couple of weeks, it has come as a bit of a shock.

Now, I say it is cold, but what I really mean is it’s a bit on the chilly side. In fact, it is nothing compared to the freezing conditions that are gripping much of continental Europe, where seriously plummeting temperatures have led to many people dying.

While I was doing my Ph.D. I got a small taste of extreme cold by spending a winter in Madison, Wisconsin. Those days were seriously cold, with temperatures regularly around -15C to -20C. With a bit of windchill sometimes taking it a further 10 degrees lower, that was not the kind of weather for hanging around outside in. I have an overriding memory of trying to go for a run one Sunday afternoon while I was there, and stupidly leaving without a hat. Within a couple of hundred yards tears were streaming down my face with the cold. It honestly felt like my ears had frozen and if I brushed against something they might snap and fall off. My reverse coverage of the distance back home might have been close to world record pace.

Fun on the sledge (before the crash)

So what was my take home message from such extreme cold. There were a couple actually. 1. Running is bad for your health: try to avoid it. 2. A good hat, a good coat and decent boots are vital. In terms of my coat, it gained such legendary status that I still have it. It is called quite simply “The Fubu” as this strange name is emblazoned on it. I believe it is a brand name, but given that I picked it up in a discount mall (it was a strict budget in those days), none of my American friends had really heard of the brand.

The Fubu became something of a spectacle. The only way to describe it is like wearing a kingsize duvet. In a state where people had warm coats, it still stood out a mile for being exceptional. On my regular bus journeys it gave me the unsought experience of being obese. I took up two seats. But I never got cold and perhaps in its special way, it helped me have a great 6 months of my life, making some very good friends.

Back in the UK the Fubu sits in my wardrobe, waiting for the extreme temperatures that might justify an outing. In past winters I have on occasion mistakenly believed that it’s time has come, and set out on a dog walk cocooned in its warmth, only to return drenched in sweat. Perhaps there is a business opportunity in renting it out as a mobile sauna: a weight loss device for people on the move.

One of the nice things about the weekend just past was that on Sunday morning we woke to a couple of inches of snow after a nice overnight snow fall. To put this in context, it doesn’t snow a great deal in the south of England. In the past few years we have seen at least one snow fall per year, where the snow has settled for a few days, but we rarely get much more than that.

Our snow family

I’m not sure if it is due to fading memories or changing weather patterns, but as a kid growing up I remember snow very rarely, certainly less frequently than every year. In fact it might simply be the geography of where I grew up, relative to where we live now. Although it is little more than 20 miles away, Worthing (where I grew up) is separated from Cranleigh (where we live now) by the South Downs.

I’m not a geographer or meteorologist, but south of the Downs there seems to be a micro-climate with fewer extremes. While this is a plus point for the vast majority of the population (having an average age somewhere in the late 70s), it was a point of frustration for me as a typical kid who wanted nothing more than snow, only to find out that any forecast snow hadn’t materialised anywhere south of the hills.

So, it was with great pleasure, that I was able to take the children out to play in the snow on Sunday. And I am pleased to say they seemed to love it. Being so little, the little sledging that they did was in a playground close to our house with a small, but quite steep, hill from where the slide starts. Tentatively running them down for the first few goes, Millie was soon tearing down on her own, head first, having a great time. My lack of snow experience was soon highlighted though as I set Millie and Harry off together in the sledge, giving Millie instructions to hold him tight and carefully running by their side to avoid incident. All went well the first few times  until, with a few other parents watching, I decided they would manage just fine without me beside them. I gave them a push and stood and watched them from the top. Whereby they promptly crashed straight into the climbing frame, resulting in a nice bruised face for Harry. I rushed down the hill to help, but of course the tears were already well on their way. I like to console myself that my quick thinking in applying a snow pack stopped it becoming a full blown shiner. Of course sledging injuries are a rite of passage, part of growing up. I just think that maybe they should happen a little after age 1.

Happily even my ineptitude didn’t stop the kids having a great time in the snow. Millie enjoyed continuing sledging, and while Harry was reluctant to try that again, he did enjoy building a snow family in our garden. The observant amongst you may suspect that there is some hidden agenda in my obsession with my children having fun in the snow. Indeed this is not without foundation. It really is imperative that our children understand that snow is FUN, because this will be our third winter in the row without skiing, and contemplating a fourth is not an option.  I had always thought that Millie would be the one would need persuading but given this weekend’s evidence she has once again proved herself tougher than I imagined.

We just need a little more snow now to convince Harry. Failing that, we’ve already planned to visit the Snow Dome in Milton Keynes in a few weeks time with our good friends the Greaves, for a bit more sledging practice. I always promised I wouldn’t be a pushy parent, but this is different. I openly acknowledge this is for us parents, not for the kids. After all, we dedicate nearly everything we do to ensure they have a great life. I’m determined that next February we’ll all  have something to look forward to!

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