Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Half Term Report

Welcome back. 

So a season recap. It's the summer holidays and Vince is enjoying some free time, while tiring the rest of us out.  Stacey is in the US right now awaiting her passport renewal while the previously efficient US passport service now makes the British one look like the KGB in the getting things done stakes. 

The weather has been surprisingly good and it's curious how the year fits into a pattern of ebb and flow so that now we're petering toward the natural break time. I'm looking forward to the break but it's a disjointed one waiting for my better half.  Vince and I have adapted into our rhythm as best we can with our regular routines - whether it's swimming on saturdays, trips to the park and seaside and for the past few weeks a regular festival. Stockton has seemingly morphed into Rio Di Janero been alive in the past few weeks with the various festivals - cycling, weekender and international festival - so its been eventful.  They say you should keep busy to stop you brooding on things and to deprive the devil of his idle hands but the downside of this approach is that it's blooming tiring and I feel I'm running on three cylinders a lot of the time. 

Routine has it's place though and as Dr Maxwell Maltz and several other lifehackers have identified that it takes 21 days to establish and implement a new habit - whether you like it or not. I've managed to knock Talksport on the head on my drive to work in favour of downloads of Radio 4 WW1 programming and archive 'Letters From America' which is good but it can also work against you.  Imagine having a hard three weeks at work so you don't get time to eat or rest properly - three weeks of crumby eating and bad sleep suddenly becomes the new norm. 

I guess the price of normality is eternal vigilance which might explain why I'm so darn tired... 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Work 2.0 - Season Reboot

Return with me If you will, to late October, to a secluded beer garden in Norwich, The Lamb Inn to be precise, in the early evening. 

I had lost my job earlier in the week and had decided to spend half term week in East Anglia with Vince at my dad's place while he's working there.
He was minding Vincent for the night so I could go out and explore the city a bit more and gain some perspective on a tumultuous time.

I clutched my pint in the heated garden at a corner table and in the movie version would have made immediate plans to be successful, get another, better job and generally be confident, stupid.

The reality of course was that I was a frightened 40 year old, out of work, living in the most depressed area of the country, my home, with seemingly least demand for my nuanced and specialist set of skills.  To rub it in, social media specific jobs were growing on trees in every other major city, America too which we'd left six months previously to come back to get Vincent into a good English school, which we did.  His progress and joy was the main anchor at the time as the swell of uncertainty was threatening to swamp what little optimism I still kept.

Fast forward four months to the same pub, same time and day and everything has changed. Like swapping a red filter for yellow, everything really does look better.  I start a job on Monday within 15 miles of home, in my field, doing whatever it is I do well and with the kind of companies I've done it well for before.  It's more money than I was on previously and most crucially, is over the pernicious minimum income requirement in order to sponsor Stacey's visa.  

Uncertainty, doubt and fear have now been supplanted by assuredness, regained confidence and expectation. Even the clouds above the garden cleared sufficiently to let me see Orion in all its glory, my touchstone constellation that I could always see from Teesside, Oxfordshire, Atlanta and back. You might almost say the stars aligned again.

The return to the working world will mean saying goodbye to the pattern of living I'd adopted, systematic job hunting online in the mornings, tea by the boatload, Maury, Bargain Hunt & Dickinson's Real Deal now become names in the TV guide and not milestones of the day.

My four months at the sharp end, including Christmas, have opened my eyes to the realities of life down here and its as far away from the tabloid version of an easy life of plasma screens on housing benefit as ITV2 is from BBC4.

Nobody is here by choice. You can exist on support if you make specific choices but I'd argue strongly that you can't live.  I wouldn't call it benefit either as that implies a positive outcome. This is the bulwark against further poverty, destitution and homelessness, not a lifestyle choice.

I've got more to say and it's best in another Blessay but you can't, in all conscience, sanction or cut support until the jobs are available and they pay sufficiently well to make them a clearly better option than the alternative. Minimum wage should not be a starting point - until it's raised to £10 an hour.

So I'm back into the world I know best and it's as a tougher, wiser and probably happier Guy. I wouldn't have chosen the last four months purposely but as Douglas Adams observed 'I haven't always got to where I wanted to go but I've nearly always ended up where I'm supposed to be.'

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

2004 - My Favourite Year

So we drove to Manchester Airport early today because Stacey had to fly back to the States. 

None of us want her to go obviously. Not me, our son Vince, my family, our friends, relatives and cousins to whom she's cool Aunt Stacey. Just the small fact that because she's not from round here the Government says she's gotta go.  

Vince and I had a good dad & lad day in the North West for a couple of hours afterwards, well as much fun as you can have when your hearts broken into 18,600 pieces and you can't tell your son when his momma is coming back. 

So back to being a jobless temporary single parent for the time being. This does remind me of the last time a year started so inauspiciously, exactly 10 years ago in fact, so indulge me while I recollect how 2004 turned out to be the best year of my life. 

I began the year much like this one bathing in the ashes of personal defeat. I had just come back from a mostly agreeable New Years Eve party with my friends in Bicester that unfortunately, for me, culminated in seeing my former fiance from six months previously snogging her new boyfriend. I went back to our, now my house, and took it out on the less expensive and replaceable kitchen equipment. 

I needed a change of scene and as luck would have it, I was able to join my parents on a trip to Oman, where my dad was working at the time. 10 days of sun, beaches and the secluded silence you only get in the Mountains was as good a place to take stock as any. 

As it turns out the trip was exactly what I needed. A chance to recuperate and take stock, mentally as well as physically. Being able to run at a higher altitude in a higher heat or work out in an air conditioned gym,  catch up on movies at home, eat the finest Indian food I've ever tasted - mainly thanks to the Indian expat community just over the gulf from home - a chance to take in some genuine Arabic culture and catch up on sleep.  

I mean real sleep, I have never slept as deeply or as well as I did in the Desert, going to sleep and waking up naturally, getting over eight hours every night, I felt like Superman waking up every morning. I enjoyed swimming in the sea and could not stop myself from laughing after running on the beach from the hotel and back.  I even had an improtu kickabout with a bunch of expat Iraqis - my 'Beckham 23' shirt helped and proved that despite their being a 'war' on, the beautiful game is the universal language - especially if you're far from home. 

While I was away, I was keeping a close eye on unfolding drama at home. The BBC was awaiting the publication of the Hutton Report so I was due for a busy time back in the Press Office and equally pressing, Middlesbrough were taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the League Cup semi-final against 'The Invincible's' Arsenal side that would not lose a league game that season.  

A momentous night at the Riverside Stadium saw the Boro triumph on aggregate and travel to Cardiff for the first time to contest a major Cup final against Bolton Wanderers on the fateful date of February 29th. The whole family went to Wales for the weekend and we enjoyed a tremendous day beforeout and about in the Capital running into friends and familiar faces at every turn. 

Not getting to a major final every season, we decided to do things in a little bit of style and managed to book a Corporate Box for the whole family to watch the game from. The game has been well covered in other places but despite leaking a goal just before half time, the two we had scored in the first 15 minutes saw that 128 years later, Middlesbrough FC had won it's first major trophy and I, and pretty much everyone I loved and cared about, was there to see it. 

The year continued without much negativity or drama and we enjoyed the rarity of a real, warm British summer. I celebrated my 31st birthday in Bicester during the European Championships and despite being ejected from The Litten Tree for being too drunk to speak, a good time was had by all. 

A week later, I started chatting with a bright, sparky, clever and amazingly attractive girl from Atlanta called Stacey - and so it began, although I had to pull out the big guns to keep her interest...

Suddenly my life was transformed and energised even more, by a relationship I wasn't even looking for when it exploded into my life. I still feel that way when I look at her. 

I had been planning to take a trip to the USA later that year anyway but now I had a specific reason to go and a city to visit - Atlanta - for the first time. I've never been so nervous, excited and alive as when I saw Stacey for the first time at Hartsfield Jackson airport. The busiest airport in the world it may be but it still stopped when she spotted me and smiled.  We had a great 10 days together - I've always been an Ameriphile and we hung out, passed the friends test, went to the Baseball and clicked like we'd known each other for years. It was just right. 

I reluctantly headed back to England and reality but we had already made plans for Stacey to spend Christmas with me back in England. In the meantime, I had Middlesbrough's first European adventures to look forward to, starting in with a trip to the Czech Republic and Banik Ostrava. Leaving from Teesside Airport, my brother, Dad and seemingly half of Teesside descended on this Eastern European steel making town and felt decidedly at home with the locals. Boro progressed over both legs but lifelong friendships were made in our twin Steel City

Stacey and I kept on chatting throughout the Autumn and Middlesbrough shrugged off their history of mediocrity, beating the likes of Liverpool, Man City and Villa in the league and in one special evening making Lazio look like a Northern League outfit in the UEFA Cup. 

The year ended with Stacey coming to the UK for the first time and despite the tactical error of taking her to Whitby in December and actually making her cry with the cold, she met my family and friends and actually decided to come back again. And again, and again.

So as I sifted through the broken sugar bowl and spilled milk of the kitchen lino before I had to take a cold shower and drive to work in London that cloudy New Years Day not knowing the filips and fun awaiting me in the year ahead, so we don't know what's round the corner this except for one caveat.  It will be better than last. 

It has to be.