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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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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Take it away

Published on 10. Mar, 2012 by in Charity, Family, Muscular Dystrophy, Wendy

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Recalling the order of the New Year, today’s post is going to be all about brevity. To aid this goal, for once I am not writing this post on the train; instead I am sat in a very busy Chinese takeaway waiting for my order. I think I’ll be here some time but I’m not envisaging a wait as long as my regular  commute. I’m too hungry for one thing.

To keep to my regime of 52 posts in a year, I don’t want to fall too far behind one post a week. As it is now Saturday night and I haven’t written since the middle of last week this is therefore overdue.

Stevie Smith

At the Sports Quiz with England Powerchair footballer Stevie Smith and his signed shirt which I won at the auction

Like a broken record, I am very fond of telling this blog and anyone else who will listen just how busy my life is right now. But really it is. Since I last wrote I’ve done the following: attended the Muscular Dystrophy sports quiz; turned 34; been to the washup meeting for the quiz; been to watch West Ham v Watford and met with Muscular Dystrophy Campaign to begin their IT strategy review. That’s on top of my regular day job at Imperial, where I have been desperately analysing the data from the huge lung cancer cohort study ready to hand in the final report before I leave in 2 weeks. Oh, and then there has been the work on Onside Analysis stuff, although in truth I haven’t moved that on significantly this week.

When you actually write it all down it’s surprising how much you can do in a week. To complicate matters further, on my birthday last Sunday Wendy started with a nasty bout of tonsilitis that largely wiped her out for the beginning of the week. Somehow she struggled through Monday, but by Tuesday she was shattered. Just in time for Tuesday night when Harry picked up a sickness bug, which saw him throwing up throughout the night and all the next day. Nice.

Because of all this, sleep has been somewhat lacking this week. With Wendy pulling the regular Supermum shift, somehow looking after the kids while I’ve been at work, with one of them being very sicky, even when she felt awful, I thought it was only fair that I did the Tuesday night shift with Harry. Following this with a night out at the football, at a ground with a far from ideal crowd dispersion strategy, it was another late night on Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon, at 4:30pm my energy just ran out, so I stopped, and hopped on the train, deciding it was time to spend a little time with the kids. I guess I realised this week that sometimes it is ok to just slow down a little. Something has to give, and there is no point killing yourself trying to keep going. Any ideas of fitness work were long gone this week until I did a session this morning. When my trainer Max gets back from his 3 month trip to Australia at the beginning of April, it is going to be very painful….

So here I am waiting for a takeaway, wanting to write down some words, yet with little in the way of creative resources to provide anything worthy of more than a minute of other people’s attention. But it would be silly not to write down a couple of words about what a fantastic evening we had last Thursday at the Sports Quiz. Once again the evening was a great success, raising over £36K net profit for the charity. The venue was once again fantastic, and just like last year it just feels like an incredible privilege to be in such a prestigious venue as Lords. Our table was lucky enough to have Steve Collins, the rather hard boxer from our youth, sitting with us as our celebrity. He was a really nice guy and, as with all the celebrities again, very obliging and generous with his time and celebrity. All in all another fantastic evening for the charity, which was made even better by the hugely amusing navigation home provided by our good friend Adam. Thanks Jimmy for the lift – I hope the navigation was as amusing if you were driving (and sober) as it was to us in the back who’d had a few drinks. And while I’m at it, I need to say a big thank you to Mum for being our babysitter until late into the night, letting both Wendy and I enjoy a rare night out together.

 

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29th February. It would be a shame not to post today, given that this date only happens once every 4 years. Who knows what will have become of this blog next time the date comes around, but it would be surprising if I still have things to write, and even more so if people still want to read my ramblings.

For me, each year is marked by significant dates which act as milestones, prompting me to take an explicit look at how my life is progressing. Typically, these are the dates that you might expect, including New Year’s Eve, my birthday, family birthdays (especially the kids birthdays), our wedding anniversary, Easter, August bank holiday and Christmas. The 29th feels like one of those extra days, where I should be doing the same.

The wonderful Wendy, (2nd from left) as drawn in Millie's portrait of our family

Taking a snapshot of what is going on right now in my life, Onside Analysis is taking up a large proportion of my focus and attention, along with working very hard to wrap up work at Imperial, and providing what little support that I have time for, for the “A Life Worth Living” project. On the blogging front, I am doing well so far at keeping to my output rate to achieve the promised 52 posts in a year. It is undoubtedly a busy time, and one that would not be possible without the love and understanding of Wendy, supporting and encouraging my projects and never begrudging the extra time that it is taking up, often at the expense of time spent with her. The 29th February then is a day to appreciate and say thank you.

Reflecting on my life over the last week or so, one conclusion that I have come to is that it needs more football! Of course, adding anything to my life at the moment is somewhat problematic, given the main thing I am lacking is time. However, a very strong case can be made that as football will be the core business of our work at Onside Analysis it is a business requirement  that my football knowledge is good. In fact, it isn’t imperative, given that my focus will be primarily the technology and modelling side and my business partner Rob is a football encyclopedia. However, when networking and building relationships as a director of a football scouting and performance analytics company, people expect a decent level of knowledge, so I will be working hard on that.

Football was such a huge part of my life growing up, and up until the end of (my first period at) university, I played a lot, at least 3 or 4 times a week. If I wasn’t playing football I was watching it. However, as life moved on, I played a bit less, first retiring from international availability (sadly with no caps), then with a few social 11-a-side teams, then just in a 5-a-side league, until slowly, it all dried up. The commitment of playing (and training) was very hard to sustain with young children. And sadly, with it, the number of games I watch has seriously diminished, meaning my level of knowledge certainly needs a boost.

On a day to day basis, this means that as part of my working day, I will be reading more sports sections and reports of newspapers and websites, and watching more games on TV. I’m also going to aim to get to one live match a week (midweek evenings where possible), spread around the many premiership and football league grounds in easy reach of home. I have also registered for a coaching course and a performance analytics course, and will be driving my fitness sessions around football based exercises (I tried this yesterday and it was great fun and a good workout – I’m feeling it today). Having begun down this track it has made me remember how much I love football, and how happy it makes me.

Lizzy Greaves and her wonderful family. Will the fascinator be jumping too?

Away from my own life, I have been quite impressed by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s marketing to make the most of this leap day for fundraising. They have been pushing a campaign called “Make Today Count”, especially for the day, designed to encourage people to use the additional day to raise money for their cause. The initiatives that they have been encouraging include asking employers to organise charity focussed events on the day or raffling off the extra day as a day of holiday. On a more personal level, people have been asked to do local collections, and various events have been organised, including a group sky dive. This challenge has been taken up by my good friend Lizzy, a very active supporter of MDC (she ran the marathon with me for them, the.first year that I did). It is her first ever sky dive and as such a brave thing to do, but what better way to mark the day, and not let it pass you by. If you are a supporter of MDC (or would like to be) please consider supporting Lizzy by sponsoring her here.

For me, because of work commitments and a lack of holiday from Imperial before I leave, I’m not able to use the day to fund raise. However, tomorrow will be the MDC sports quiz which we have been building towards for many months now. I am hugely looking forward to the event and will make my contribution to the cause there. As for today, how will I make today count? Well I’ll start by posting this blog, and then I’ll crack on with my day job and try and cross off a few more tasks on the route to my final day on the 23rd March. It’s not exciting but it’s necessary.

Regardless, I’ll keep the message of the day in mind. “Make Today Count”. When you see the challenges that some people face every day it’s good to be reminded not just to take another day for granted. It’s a great message for the 29th February, but an even better way to try to live everyday.

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