Tag Archives: Personal

One year of country life

Dawn over Basingstoke Common

A year ago today, we packed up our bags and left the Big Smoke. I won’t deny that I had some anxiety about it; leaving friends and (my) family, introducing a 2.5 hour a day commute, having to drive everywhere and more, and with Emily (then merely "Hippo") on the way, it was a fairly hectic experience.

Looking back on the first year of this new life, I have absolutely no regrets. I’ve had barbecues from Spring through Autumn, played with my daughter on our big lawn, grown and eaten veg straight off the plants and fruit off the trees, run and cycled through village after village, made local friends via the NCT, discovered the joy of jumble, DIY and more, and am enormously enjoying the lifestyle. We’ve even found good local Indian and Chinese takeaway restaurants and discovered Papa Johns.

It’s been a fantastic first year. I still miss my friends but many of them are being good enough to visit with some regularity and I’m getting better at heading up for London nights out here and there.

Here’s to what comes next.

Regrets, I’ve had a few…

I didn’t desperately enjoy boarding school. By the time I left, I’d made a few friends and found a localised kind of happiness and certainly gained a great deal from it – exposure to public speaking, journalism, intellectual discourse, guitar skills, philosophical debate, various sporting activities and the like helped net me a place at Cambridge.

However, a significant part of the time spent there was dotted with pained phone calls back to home, agonised discussions as to whether I should transfer back to a school in Malaysia, spates of bullying and a persistent sense of being marginalised by a community in which I did not really fit. And this resulted in a general sense of misery for myself and my parents for the duration.

Having become a parent, discussing my childhood with my parents, the question was asked: should I have been sent to boarding school at all? Should it be a regret for all involved?

Now, oddly, despite the relative unhappiness whilst I was there, I have absolutely no regrets about taking the decision both to go – and to stay – there. In both cases my parents applied very little pressure – first I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps, and then a combination of pride and obsessiveness had me wanting to finish what I’d started. And eventually friendships formed and it became less of a trial, and I grew to love elements of the experience.

It’s funny how any experience, once you’re sufficiently clear of it, can be seen for the ‘character-building’ goodness that it was. The person I am today was not entirely defined by my experience at school but certainly aspects of me were forged there – 15 years ago in the rolling fields of Buckinghamshire. And now I’m an extremely happy adult, it’s difficult to regret anything that got me to where I am today.

I miss some aspects of being at Stowe, and the friends and teachers I had there. I hope to reconnect with some of those people in the months ahead and see how perspectives have shifted in the decade and a bit since we all left… and just rekindle the memories of discussing fantasy novels with Will, cars and Transformers with Mac, Squash and alt-rock with Al and, of course, Radiohead, religion and Tintin with Roy…

From city dweller to country gent

Many of my friends (and family, no doubt) are probably still somewhat mystified as to how I’ve taken to country life so well. My mother keeps saying "you were such an urban boy…" and smiling when I show off our veg patch.

Whilst I do miss the proximity of friends and family, the transition from city dweller to country gent really hasn’t been a hardship in any way. Apart from the extra space, there are lots of other things that have made it easy on me.

  1. Everything is more convenient. Admittedly its more convenient thanks to having a car, but the truth of the matter is that getting anywhere in London takes a disproportionate amount of time. I had a rule of thumb – if I had to get a tube or bus somewhere in London, it would take at least 30 minutes. And crossing London can take a considerable amount more time, never mind when there’s a disruption, fall of leaves on the track or a light shower of rain. In the countryside? Most things I need to get to are a maximum of 10 minutes drive away.
  2. The pace of life is wonderful. When I get home, it feels like a dramatic gearshift. I’m sure a lot of that is due to being a family man, but even if it wasn’t – walking around in the late evening sunshine in my back garden, bouncing Emily around or looking at the veg… is pretty amazing.
  3. The commute is better. I know, I know, I moan about it… and the SWT guys aren’t great, but, except, for when I was in cycling range of my office, the public transport from other places in London – like my sister’s house – can take longer than the train does to get home. That’s the 5 miles from our offices in Victoria needing an hour and a quarter to traverse (admittedly on a bad day, in rush hour).
  4. I like the structure the trains put around my day – I’m in the office every day at 7.40am and have to be out at 6. Still a long day, but at least without the uncertainty of when I’m getting home (again, except for delays). And obviously I’m able to be productive on the train in and out of Basingstoke in a way that I could never be on any London transport vehicle.
  5. I was never really a ‘true’ urban dweller. I grew up in the suburbs in a country where you had to drive everywhere, spent five years in the deepest countryside, 3 years in a small University town and then 7 years in London. I’m beginning to think that living in London as the unusual part of my life…

All that said, I do still very much enjoy being in London for work. Some of the things that happen here, only happen here, and I’ll never stop thinking of it as one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s wonderful to visit friends and family there, when they’ll have us, but I have to admit, I’m resoundingly and categorically glad I don’t live there any more.

The routines and rhythms of a country gentleman

I seem to be turning into a country person. My surprisingly enduring passion for running has been joined by a not-insignificant-interest in gardening (at least insofar as it results in food), instead of drinking I’m more often driving, BBQs have become a regular occurrence, and every room in the house is fast acquiring its own ‘project’ – whether its painting a wall, putting up shelves or insulating.

Is this a mark of middle age? Maybe. Am I embracing it? Hells yeah, this is massive fun. Maybe at some point a year or two after we moved in we’ll ‘finish’ but the received wisdom seems to be that these things are endlessly cyclical…

There are limits to this, though. I don’t own any tweed, will never own a gun, and don’t plan on taking up hunting or fishing. Golf, however, may happen again at some point…

The end of the sabbatical

Wow, that was a magnificent break. Two months out of the office is a significant gap, and let me witness Emily’s first roll, first self-fed food, her sitting up properly, her first slobbery kiss for Daddy, her grins at her godparents, grandparents, aunties, cousins and uncles all over the world.

Emily coped remarkably well with multiple flights, and marginally less well with being on a boat (she seems to enjoy boats a little less than her Dad – at least at night) – and loved all her family, strawberry and sunshine experiences.

We had a wonderful time with friends and family, in the garden, doing some necessary shopping and seeing (not nearly as much as we’d like) our friends. A few projects are ongoing, but progress is being made…

The first couple of days back at the office have seen me surprisingly refreshed – and I’m excited about the things to come. I’m hoping I can maintain the running routine (more on that to come) and can continue to give the attention to this blog that it deserves.

The novel writing dream didn’t materialise; I think I need a more active collaborator than me, myself or I to make that one come to be. Maybe some day…


Eight years of division6

I’ve spent just over eight years writing this blog, which made its transition to WordPress in March 2003 (it had previously lived on motime (now defunct) and Blogger in its pre-Google days).

That translates to nearly 1000 posts, over 500 comments, tens of thousands of visitors and a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction for me. Whilst these stats pale in comparison with the vast majority of genuinely popular blogs out there, my inconsistent, polymath tendencies make this a difficult blog to pin down and want to follow.

So here’s to you, my friends and Internet followers, for making it an interesting ride, and here’s to future blogging.

And here’s to the fans of Outcasts for making this month the most popular month on my blog in 8 years!

A weekend of Emexperiences

Wonderful weekend, as have they all been, but full on on four specific Emexperiences.

1) Poop. I got to change them all. No novelties here, except for instructing Aunty Sheila… who got to witness the ever unpleasant mid-change poop. Fortunately a well-located nappy cut collateral damage down to zero.

2) Sleep. On Sat night/Sun morning, Amanda decided I was responsible for all of Emily’s post-overnight feed burping… and where she’d only fed once over night the evening before, she was making up for lost time on Saturday. Every two hours, after Amanda fed her, I’d have to keep her upright for 10-25 minutes without dropping off to sleep myself to help the wind through her. Absolutely sleep-destroying and don’t know how Amanda does it every day, even with late night digestives to keep her energy up. My wife, ladies and gentlemen, is amazing.

3) Smiles. Emily did her first verified non-gas related smile this evening and it was an absolute joy – not only to see her smiling and happy but to witness her development. She’s a little on the early side – she’s 4 weeks old and the majority come in with first smiles around 6 weeks – so it was a delightful surprise. I have a new game – make Emily smile! Although am definitely not wishing the time away (sleep notwithstanding!)

4) Bathtime was fun. She always fusses royally about being bathed but fortunately today, whether through getting her water just right or some other act of fluke – she was pretty mellow throughout it. It’s a wonderful bonding experience – if I can get her to stop crying for long enough to enjoy it!

Anyway, wonderful weekend. Next up; things I’ve learned in early Dadhood…

Armand XXX

This isn’t a post about porn – I’m turning thirty imminently.

I had a vague thought that I might blog a list of all the profound and impressive things I’d thought or tried / succeeded / failed to achieve, but truth be told… I don’t see the point.

The essence of anything I’d write would sum up more or less as follows: at age 30, I am as completely happy as I imagine anyone could be. I have (in no particular order) a wonderful wife and am about to become a dad. I have an amazing set of friends, an ever-supportive family and financial security. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, I take huge satisfaction in what I do for a living, I have an amazing home, and I have all the adventure and excitement I could wish for.

Here’s to holding that thought for the next decade or six – and to all of y’all.

Planning for Hippo

10 weeks till I become a Dad. I’d be anxious if I wasn’t so busy getting stuff sorted. It’s weird, only a few years ago and I’d have thought this wasn’t something I could do, and yet here I am, more excited than I have been about pretty much anything in my life (with the exception of my wedding). My brother and sister and brother-in-law are getting used to the idea of becoming uncles and aunt. Our parents are getting used to the idea of becoming grandparents.

I’ve made endless spreadsheets of things we need to do and buy before the little one, code-named ‘Hippo’ until s/he arrives, which Amanda is doing her best to ignore (the spreadsheets, not the nickname – Amanda came up with that).

And we’ve had dozens of lovely conversations with interested friends and family about the new arrival. I’ll answer some of them here for you, beloved readers.

1. Do we know if it’s a boy or a girl?
No. We’re excited about the surprise, and would decorate neutrally anyway!
2. Have we discussed names?
Yes, we’ve started to, anyway. No final decisions taken as yet, except definitely *not* Hippo.
3. Are you telling?
4. Are you going for the classes?
Yes, we’re doing the NCT classes in Basingstoke in a few weeks time.
5. Basingstoke?
Yep, we’re moving. S/he will be a Hampshire Hippo. I’ll still be commuting into London as I love my job.
6. Are you going to get any sleep when s/he arrives?
Probably not.
7. Will you go running with the child?
No. See this post.
8. Are you anxious?
As above, kind of too busy to be anxious. Recent experience babysitting my cousin tells me that I will be anxious, but as the Hippo’s Mormor (Danish for ‘mother’s mother’) will be 5 minutes away, we’re reassured that experienced wisdom is nearby.
9. Have you bought/chosen…?
Virtually nothing yet, except for the car (my fault). Our friends Farrah & Vik sent some lovely gifts and we’re getting some lovely offers from some of my Brands2Life colleagues for the kit you only need for the first three months. I am seeing the pram as yet another car purchase, but this one Amanda is leading. Advice on everything appreciated.

More fatherhood posts will ensue in the fullness of time; in the meantime if you’re interested in parenting blogs, my friend Ricky Bobby has started one over here.

Update for my blog faithful

Dear all,

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much here lately. Truth is, I’ve been busy. Busy with work, the new running regimen, and… planning for the arrival of ‘Hippo’, our child to be, due in October! The name is clearly a work in progress…

Needless to say we’re delighted and keeping fingers crossed everything goes well. I imagine the ‘soup’ oriented focus of this blog might change somewhat when Hippo arrives…

In the meantime, find me on Twitter or Facebook, or on the LSR if you want to keep up to date with my happenings, but stay subscribed here… as a great man once said, “I’ll be back.”

Cheers, Armand