A funny old game…

It’s a funny old game; the game of life… After a two months of feverish activity I find myself:

1) in a very promising and already rather nice new family home;

2) through the worst of some work travails;

3) a full stone lighter than at the end of May and the trimmest I’ve been since schooldays;

4) two days into a relaxing and rather lovely family holiday in Holland;

5) Downloading a dead German Catholic philosopher’s ‘Four Cardinal Virtues’.

It all goes to show that philo sophos (philosophy’s enduring charms) can be driven into abeyance by the busyness of life; but they are what I come back to when I am at rest.

Josef Pieper came to my attention via Wednesday’s (1st August) chapter of the Daily Stoic. As life progresses and reasonableness seems the only lasting solution to anything, I liked this Pieper quote:

“he alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is.”

The wisdom of the ages in that one.

What better than a German Catholic on a Dutch beach holiday – surely Thomas Aquinas would have approved.

🏡 is where the ❤️ is

As I head to my half century this autumn, there is much to celebrate. None of it at work, if I’m honest; but at home my cup runneth over.

A house move hoves into view; thus providing the steady drumbeat of tasks: chucking away, taking stuff to the charity shop, driving to the municipal recycling facility and odd jobs on which (secretly) I thrive.

I have been ‘outed’ as a foodie at work, and “if the shoe fits wear it”… Armed with my constant companion – the InstantPot – and a burgeoning supply of Tupperware, I love my cooking and my homemade work lunches.

Family life is endlessly full. Yesterday, for Father’s Day I was treated to tasty tongue tinglers new and old by my offspring; capped (after the obligatory two trips to the municipal recycling facility) by a family bike ride to foodie heaven and a Venezuelan pork and crackling arepa for lunch.

And then there’s the dog. Such a happy little hound. Endlessly up for catch, wrestling with his stuffed pheasant and balls of all shapes and sizes. He is a constant source of joy in our lives.

Home is where the heart is; and my home and heart are full of happiness right now.

Jar Mitzvahs

Knitting together from several sources: it’s well worth celebrating life’s small moments of joy…

A friend of Tim Ferriss recommends a ‘Jar of Awesome’ – a Mason Jar (as above) into which everyone in the family drops little paper slips, to celebrate small happinesses…

Not sure that would work in our house. I think we’d be arguing with each other and scrumpling up each other’s slips of paper in no time.

Plus ‘Awesome’ may be overstating it. Small blessings, kindnesses and happy moments are more up my street.

As so often Chris Croft is a voice of practical good sense. He recommends a small notebook to jot down happy moments through the day; then recap and write three more at bedtime.

So I’ve now got a list on my iPhone titled ‘Jar Mitzvahs’, my virtual jar-cum-notebook of daily moments, and memories, and things to be thankful for.

And as Chris Croft suggests I’ve found some recurring themes…

…cooking, activities with the kids, chucking stuff for the dog to fetch, sunshine. But there are also a few I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t written them down… kind words, being appreciated and just rubbing along with folk at work.

Happiness isn’t that complicated; it breaks out every time you clear the clouds from your head.

Bouldering

I've had 'bouldering' on my to do list for a while.

Not even sure what it was, I thought it was some kind of paddling through streams, clambering on boulders thingy. And that seemed like a good 'Dad and Daughter' activity – following clambering about in trees last Christmas holidays.

So I googled it – and it turns out it's not quite that. It's low level free climbing without ropes; and what great fun it has turned out to be…

Climbing shoes tightly on, we've been three times now; and have tackled 'slabs', overhangs, bulges and 'volumes'… with a bit of traversing yesterday to boot.

The indoor walls we've found are generally full of cheerful, lean, taughtly-muscled young folk – but they're all very encouraging and just seem happy that you share their interest.

It certainly tests the muscles though! And even though you don't get that high, it's high enough to test the nerves a bit too.

What a lovely little world we've discovered – in an old disused biscuit factory (of all things) which has found a new life.

Bouldering is a keeper. There's no better place to hang out for an hour at the weekend.

Slimes of Passion

Some weeks ago I started to notice blobs of candy-pink sludge in the bottom of cups… The outbreak spread to larger food containers, before regularly plaguing all three sinks in the house…

Then my shaving foam started moving about. Tackling my eldest, she was concocting slimes. With a bit of huff and puff on the messes she was leaving, I left it and moved on.

Some weeks later there was a regular psst and a pervasive whiff of artificial fragrance seeping from her room… 

It transpires cans of Airwick 6-in-1 are the last source of ‘Borax’ left in the European Union. It was banned in cleaning products a few years back; and borax is the indispensable companion to PVA glue in the slime makers art.


She and I had a rewarding if ultimately costly and unsuccessful weekend down the seaside Pound Shops – trying to find an alternative to Airwick. But we did find some handy pots – and the following week two types of slime hit the underground school slime market at 50p and £1.


So I googled borax again – not least since all of us had developed a splitting headache from the fragranced fug in the kitchen and found… Kershaw’s Traditional Laundry Starch! 


No fug, no headaches and the slime maker is back at work – now the only psst is my shaving foam being expertly worked into a particular variant. We have styrofoam balls and glitter on the way for ‘crunchy’ and ‘sparkly’ to add to the range.

I said last weekend watching her at work: “It’s great you’ve found a passion, Honey.” She said “It’s not a passion Dad, its just fun.” And indeed it is… I took a particularly excellent slime in to work this week, which delighted two of my colleagues; reminding them of ‘potions’ and ‘flubber’ from their childhoods.

Simple pleasures, and sharing an interest with your kids and colleagues; is there any better combination?

CRACK!

It’s never too late to learn, and it’s always worth a try…

Two good mottoes – exemplified by the resounding crack my neck gave this morning; as something which feels like it’s been out of place since the mid 1990s cracked back into place!

I can now look 180 degrees right, there is no ‘grating’ sound when I turn my head and apart from a little muscle soreness – no pain in the neck!

Any number of different pillows, handlebar adjustments, panniers and changed posture on my bike, driving left-handed on long holiday jaunts; nothing got to the bottom of it… but a simple stretch, suggested by my ever-thoughtful son has…

About six weeks ago I mentioned my neck and shoulder ache again and he said why don’t you try this: 

Taught him by his PE teacher at school, a bit like Heineken it has found the part nothing else has for 20 years!

The Boy Wonder has cracked it again – five stretches night and morning for six weeks and CRACK – I’m fixed. 

Green Shoots

Spring feels like it’s almost here. Green shoots, buds, birds twittering – and the sun high enough in the sky, yesterday, to get over the building line; lighting up and warming a corner the quadrangle where I work. I stood in that couple of metres squared of sun yesterday – for a minute or two – which warmed my face and the cockles of my heart.

Green Fingers: 

A couple of weekends ago (adding to my Christmas bonsai and January’s tiny cactuses from Amazon) I potted up some tiny fragments from a tray of forgotten succulents. They were struggling through the winter under a tree, in our slightly unloved back garden. 

All five of them have taken root. Now they are catching stray photons of weak sunlight on top of a chest of drawers, happily converting carbon dioxide into sugars and plumping up nicely. 

Much like children; I’m learning – helping a few plants to grow near you is a constant joy.


Green Socks: 

Sat on the Tube, in a bit of a rush, I spotted a smartly dressed chap opposite; a little older than me, he had a very smart pair of turquoise/green socks on display. 

Following Thich Naht Hahn’s advice I reflected on ‘interdependence’ – all the things that had gone into those socks… 

The dye, the chemists from Du Pont who almost certainly created the colour and the designers who adopted that shade; the makers, buyers and then the retailers who chose to make and stock them; the man himself – probably on the internet – who thought they were a particularly fetching shade… And that’s just the colour. 

From my time in branding and advertising, I know that colour was probably selected for this year’s palate about 7 years ago somewhere in Paris. And that’s before we get into the myriad machines, the power sources materials (natural and man-made) lorries, ships, trains and more which made and moved them. 
The whole world in a pair of socks… Then screech, beep, swoosh, ‘mind the gap’ and back out into London life.



Green Run

We packed off my daughter (at 3am) this morning on her first ever ski trip – which as I was dozing back off made me think of mine… Almost the same age, I remember the flight: reading Smash Hits with Annie Lenox on the cover, listening to my (vast) Sanyo Walkman, wearing my silver C&A ski jacket as we flew over the Alps about 35 years ago. 

As my dad reminded me this morning the catch phrases of my Italian ski instructor have become family lore: “Hey Disaster Boy!”, “Don’t bend your botham”, “Knees to the mountain, shoulders to the vaa-lley.” It’s bitter sweet seeing her all grown up, but it certainly brings back memories. 

As the book I’m reading points out – you don’t need to be sat in silence to really notice and enjoy what’s going on around you. Especially at this time of year.

Groundhog Day


A simple but profound insight from both the Arbinger Institute and Chris Croft; time is much better spent making things go well in the first place, than trying to correct them when they’ve gone wrong.

Simply said. Harder done. But when the same thing keeps on going wrong, every single day, it’s well worth investing some time and thought on how to make it go better.

One such transformation has been wrought in my lovely son. No more confusion and cross words of a morning; he now falls out of bed straight into his clothes. 

And better still on weekdays, he arrives at the breakfast table to his homework which he now silently and efficiently cracks on with! Less than two months ago you would not have thought it possible.

By simply laying the right things out the night before, everything goes better – for everyone. So much so that on the one occasion the other week that I was out, he laid out his own school clothes for the morning. Unbelievable.

All the upset, anger, shouting, door slamming and plain old misery of the years of everyone trying and failing to ‘correct’ everyone else… Gone. 

No more Groundhog Day! 

Movin’ on up

I had my first cup of proper filter coffee made for me by my daughter this morning; and enjoyed two sophisticated and very funny gags at each end of the day from my son.

Me and my girl went on fairground rides and shopped for and cooked chicken, mushrooms, spinach and cream linguine; even my food-fastidious boy agreed it was pretty good.


Yesterday I left work in good order: with plans, roles and actions in place. Now I have my feet up in our very own Georgian seaside cottage; with a fortnight in Italy ahead to look forward to. 

Albeit I’m getting older, life in many ways is getting easier. From today’s perspective, the second half of my middle years are looking better by the day…

Train of thought

‘The train of thought refers to the interconnection in the sequence of ideas expressed during a connected discourse or thought, as well as the sequence itself, especially in discussion; and how this sequence leads from one idea to another.’

Our capacity to misunderstand each other (or indeed ‘misunderestimate’ as a former colleague of mine was wont to say) is legendary, in our house. 

Often considered obtuse by the other family members; we have recently realised that our problem is we don’t adequately ‘show our workings‘ as every maths teacher recommends. The result is: no-one else knows why on earth we’ve just come out with what we’ve just said; at least 90% of the time.

A recent classic was at a friend’s wedding. I spotted Manchester’s premier Chinese restauranteur arriving and taking his seat (just as the bride and father began the walk to the altar). I whispered as much. 

My other and better half, who was looking at the studiously understated vicar, whispered back “He’s a Chinese restauranteur??” I said “Yes!”. When she asked again, and then for a third time I slightly exasperatedly hissed: “For God’s sake honey, yes, he is…” (myself now looking firmly at the vicar, in full sermon). She looked non-plussed.

All became clear some time later at the end of the service, as the flamboyantly kilted, bald – and indeed only Chinese man in the congregation stood up – having been largely obscured by my head, to our left… 

Following the Vicar/Chinese restauranteur incident, we have realised: sharing a bit more of what we’ve been thinking sometimes helps. We’ve come to call it sharing the ‘train of thought’. 

Our family problem, we now realise is we’re a bit Channel Tunnel or indeed the new Swiss ‘Gotthard Base’: deep underground, thinking our private thoughts; then briefly appearing with a comment or conclusion giving no clue as to the ‘train of thought’ we’ve been journeying on. 


A day in our heads is like a day on the London Underground – popping above ground with a thought or statement – before buzzing off down a completely different line, to appear again, unexpectedly, somewhere else altogether.


Revealing a little of the ‘train of thought’ certainly helps the family dynamic – and is making us laugh out loud too. We all go on some hilariously roundabout routes in our heads.

It could be worse; describing the ‘train of thought‘ to a colleague at work, she said: “It’s like Clapham Junction in our family… everyone talks; and all at the same time!” 


I like our family’s underground ‘train of thought’; for all we’re often in the dark, it’s never dull.