Grateful for the Little Things

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What are 5 things you are grateful for today ?”.

While it would be tremendously easy to list off five obvious things that most people are grateful for – health, wealth, family, friendship, and so on – I’m going to try and take notice of the final word of the today’s writing prompt – today. What are the five things I’m grateful for today.

First, I’m grateful that our internet connection – which failed on Friday evening – is working once more. We just had fibre fitted at home, and while we were all giddy with the possibilities of it on Friday, our excitement came to an abrupt end on Friday evening when the world connected to our house went very dark indeed. Following an engineer visit this morning, we are back online.

Today I’m also grateful for a quieter workload than usual. Although I know the months ahead may be hectic, at the moment I am afforded a chance to research, test, learn, and get at least a little ahead of the game. Quite often in my line of work (I’m a software developer) the sand shifts so fast beneath your feet that you never quite manage to get your footing.

The third thing I’m grateful for today is our continuing (and somewhat miraculous) avoidance of COVID in our household. We are all testing on a regular basis, and being mindful of risk. We’re trying not to go overboard – and while we are almost resigned to catching the virus at some point, we’re just grateful that we have avoided it so far. We are all vaccinated and/or boosted, so fingers crossed.

I’m grateful for the sound of our washing machine rumbling away in the background while writing this. I feel sorry for it sometimes – we work the poor thing to destruction. This morning it’s attempting to get a load of mud covered rugby kit clean.

The final thing I’m grateful for today is the loaf of bread that got delivered with the milk this morning – meaning I won’t have to go out to buy any in order to make a sandwich for lunch.

I know the things I’m grateful for sound trivial, but I’m kind of a believer in Gandalf’s observation that the world is driven by ordinary folk performing small acts of kindness. They add up. The little things make the world turn a little better.


Incorrect Assumptions

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What do people incorrectly assume about you ?”.

I think perhaps the most common misconception people have about me is that I am somehow popular, outgoing or the life and soul of some imaginary party they have constructed in their head. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ve always been quiet, introverted, and somewhat shy. Over the years I have either begun to care less what other people think, or found strategies for coping with group situations. Typically at gatherings I’ll be the person talking to those that have become excluded from the various conversations around the room. I’m never the funny/smart/loud/exciting person in the middle of the room.

I remember going to a charity fund-raising dinner several years ago with some friends and sitting next to a somewhat extrovert school teacher – the life and soul of the party that particular evening. She turned to me (after several drinks) and said “you’re really funny! I had no idea!”.

A girl I used to work with once told me that when I’m happy I “shine” – but that when I’m concerned about anything, I disappear in plain sight. She wasn’t wrong. I guess half the problem is worrying not only about myself, but about others too. I’ve always done it.

So anyway. There’s my incorrect assumption. I’m not popular, not outgoing, and will rarely be found in the company of the noisy people at a gathering. I could write at length and do a full armchair psychiatric evaluation of myself – but it would serve no purpose for anybody but a really bored reader that happens upon this post.

I nearly forgot. If you’re a fellow introvert, and you want a great strategy for dealing with chatty people – ask them about themselves. They will invariably furnish you with their life story at a moment’s notice, and you get to avoid making conversation for several minutes. It’s very easy.


Favourite Childhood Toys

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What was your favourite toy as a child?”.

I was born in 1973. Although the memories are hazy at best, I would have gone to the cinema to see “Star Wars” when it was originally released. I can vaguely remember “The Empire Strikes Back”, and can clearly remember “Return of the Jedi”. More than the movies, I remember the experience of visiting the cinema with my Dad and brother – the feeling of exhilaration while walked out into the night air afterwards, and the excited conversation during the car journey home.

In the years that followed, each Christmas brought another spaceship from the Star Wars universe, and one or two more figures for my collection. I vividly remember the year the AT-AT arrived, towering over the assembled rag-tag fleet of spaceships that assembled under the stairs before lunch.

I spent countless hours playing with the Star Wars toys during my formative years. Bookshelves became space stations, with books pulled out to provide blast doors. Darth Vader remained the villain throughout – although he only ever had one or two storm-troopers under his command in my stories – because that’s all I had. I never had an Imperial Tie-Fighter either, so most stories involved the theft of the X-Wing, or my brother’s Snow Speeder.

It’s funny – the more I write, the more I remember.

One day in my early teens – after computers had entered my life and swept all toys before them, my Mum told me about a fund-raiser for a local children’s home that was happening – and would I like to donate the Star Wars toys. I didn’t hesitate.

Collectors are probably grimacing at this point, but my Star Wars toys were played with – not locked in glass cabinets and admired – and they went on to be played with. We found out years later that the children’s home didn’t sell the Star Wars toys – they kept them. Countless children in their care shared them, and created their own memories with them.

Fast forward thirty years, and I (of course) took my own children to watch the new movies – to cheer as Rey awakened the force, to cry as first Luke and then Leia died, and to walk into the night air exhilarated all over again.

For several years my youngest daughter went everywhere dressed as a Jedi. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.


Leaving My Comfort Zone

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s theme is “Write about the last time you left your comfort zone”.

In the daytime I work as a software and web developer. Since the pandemic ravaged the world, for the most part that means sitting alone at home in front of a computer trying to make sense of requirements documents, and constructing solutions for staff I will never meet.

While I may not be able to speak multiple languages – a feat I’m always captivated by when others perform it – I can write software in multiple languages. Multiple machine languages come with the territory, because the development of computers doesn’t stand still. Just as real-world languages evolve, so do the means by which we instruct computers to get the job done.

Which leads me to the departure from my comfort zone. It’s happening right now.

For the last several years I’ve been in a comfortable little bubble – partially of my own making – using the same technology stack to build solution after solution. Well that has all come crashing down in recent months – with opportunities in the marketplace pivoting towards something different. It’s a little like turning up to a school to teach French as you have for the last decade, only to discover one morning the label on the door has been replaced with “German for beginners”.

The problem with computer languages isn’t so much the language itself – it’s what you’re doing with it. It’s never as simple as learning the wording, and the sentence structure. Invariably you need to also learn how it has been used for an entire library of pre-existing stuff. Perhaps an analogy might help. Instead of just learning about the fuel, springs, and the nuts and bolts your car is made from, you have to learn about suspension geometry, the theoretical workings of the combustion engine, the GPS system, the locking system, and so on.

For most software development projects you find yourself standing upon the shoulders of countless generations of giants that came before you – and that can make the learning curve incredibly steep.

I’m on that steep slope at the moment. Thankfully the hard climbing is already done, and the gradient is beginning to level off. Of course the problem now is looking back down, and realising how high you are – and how far you might fall if you make a mistake.

So yes. I’m out of my comfort zone at the moment. I have to remind myself that I’m surrounded by wonderful co-workers, and that the internet is but a few keystrokes away – where an army of fellow developers often share their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Fingers crossed for the months ahead.


Coast to Coast

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s theme is “what is a road trip you would love to take?”

Back in 1999, when the world and I were very different, I had just returned to England after visiting my younger cousin in San Francisco for the spring.

Being young, naive, and not having seen much of the world, America walked straight out of a movie. From the blue shirted police officers wandering the crowds in the airport, to the hotdog sellers, the impossibly pretty college girls, and the war veterans holding placards in the street. A new world filled with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

I wouldn’t so much say San Francisco made an impression on me, so much as grabbed me by the collar and shook me. Days were spent walking the various parks, eating sourdough bread, and retracing the haunts of Kerouac and Ginsberg.

The America I experienced during the spring of 1999 has stayed with me ever since.

In the months that followed – having read “On the Road” – I started to make plans for a coast-to-coast adventure. Perhaps the following summer. I would fly to New York and travel westwards across the United States – using cars, busses, trains, boats, taxis, bicycles – as many forms of transport as possible. My cousin would meet me for parts of the journey – perhaps to revisit her birthplace in Chicago, or the home of her formative years at Lake Powell.

At the end of the year I began researching the papertrail to make the visit somewhat more permanent – sponsorship, green cards, and emigration forms became the subject of transatlantic phone calls.

And then none of it happened.

I met a girl.

A chance meeting with a girl in Oxford re-wrote my future during the spring of 2000, and the road trip, the emigration, and the arrival of an English web developer in San Francisco during the dot com boom never happened.

I’ve never forgotten the plans though. One day. One day. Quite how the money or time might ever present itself remains something of a mystery given the arrival of houses, daughters, pets, and so on – but the thought remains – one day.


New Years Day

So here we are. Another new year. While it’s tempting to make resolutions, to “double down” on that which was intended but not done in the past, I’m resisting. Resolutions are invariably not kept. Aspirations are invariably not met. While it sounds tremendously boring to have no aims, given the past couple of years just making it through in one piece seems to be as good a goal as any.

We stayed in last night. Everybody we know stayed in. We ate dinner, watched television, and poured a glass of fizzy wine at the allotted hour.

My middle daughter worked throughout the afternoon and evening at a bar in the centre of town – I met her as her shift finished at 10pm and we wandered home through the Christmas lights together.

We were all in bed before 1am, and struggled to get up this morning. I think today might be very quiet indeed. A day for reading books, watching movies, playing board games, and setting out pages in new bullet journals.

My use of bullet journals over the last few years has now spread like a virus throughout my family. My other half now has one, as does my middle daughter. I wandered into the lounge yesterday and interrupted a very serious conversation about future logs and migration. I smiled.


Time to make a cup of tea, and catch up on the written adventures of far flung friends.