Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Half Year Review

Whilst the title of this week's post sounds like one of those awful things your manager makes you do at work, I'm hoping that this will be slightly less turgid.

I'm going to review the first 6 months of 2012 against my New Year's Resolutions to see how well things are progressing.  It's obviously not the most accurate barometer of success/failure, but I it's better than nothing right?

I was searching for my earlier post where I discussed my resolutions when I realised I never revealed what they were so apologies for that.

1. Run the London Marathon

Well this is a pretty easy one to tick off.  As anyone who read this blog before May this year will tell you, this has been my main goal for quite some time and I can proudly say that I managed it without too many problems in the end.  I've bored you to death with tales of the marathon for a few months now so I won't go over it again.  If you're not familiar with it all, here's a link to the post-race blog

2. Raise at least £1000 for charity

This is another one that I'm proud to say that I've achieved, though I definitely couldn't have done it without the help and support of so many people.  My marathon fundraising brought in a total of £1500 for Diabetes UK and The Children's Hospital Charity in Sheffield for which I'm incredibly grateful.

I've definitely caught the running bug though (despite my appalling lack of fitness since the marathon) and I've entered into two more 10k runs this year.  I'll be doing the brilliantly named Cannon Hall Run in August which is a course from Barnsley town centre to Cannon Hall.  I'll then be doing the Great Yorkshire Run in September which will start go from Sheffield city centre to Hillsborough Stadium and back.

Once again I'm running for the two charities above, hoping to raise a modest £200 in total.  If you'd like to donate, you can do so by visiting my fundraising page

3. Get a photograph published or sold

This is a difficult one in many respects.  I've struggled for both the inspiration and motivation to use my camera as lot this year which is something I'm determined to change in the second part of this year.

I was fortunate enough to be able to take some press photos for a Wakefield band call Skint & Demoralised for the launch of their new album earlier on this year.  A few of those got used as promo pictures as part of that launch which I was really pleased with.  You can see those photos here.

I'm hopeful that something else may come up later on this year but I'll try and get more pictures out there which I've always been a bit nervous of before.  I'll leave this resolution half ticked off for now.

4. Carry on training to run the Sheffield Half Marathon 2013

I've recently got back out running after a good few weeks off after the marathon (down to injury rather than apathy).  I've forgotten how hard it was to build up a base level of fitness and I mentioned a few weeks ago about how I felt like I was starting over in many respects.

Running is really my only form of regular exercise and so I'm determined to keep to about 10 miles a week for the rest of this year which should give me a solid platform to build up to the Sheffield Half Marathon next year.

For those of you not familiar with my history with this race, I injured myself whilst training for it in 2008 and the recovery took quite a while.  I see it as my nemesis a bit now and so I'm determined to beat it next year

5. See at least 12 gigs

I enjoy live music a lot and so I struck a compromise with my wife that sees us get at least one night out a month.  She meets up with friends and I go out to see a band.

So far this year I've seen 7 gigs and I have 3 more on the calendar so I'm confident of meeting this one by the end of the year.  It's difficult to pick a favourite as they've all been different, but Mile Kane in Leeds, Ladyhawke in Sheffield and Jay-Z & Kanye West in Manchester could possibly be my top 3

6. Read at least 10 books

I completely realise that this sounds like a pretty poor target but I'd wager that I probably read less than 10 last year and that was something I wanted to change this year.  Whilst 10 is a modest target, I think it's achievable and I think that's the main thing.

I've ploughed through 6 so far which isn't too bad if you consider the first four months of this year were almost exclusively spent running.  Reading Guitar Man by Will Hodgkinson inspired my Birthday Resolutions and I've just finished reading Just Kids by Patti Smith which I enjoyed immensely.

I currently have three more on the go but I'm focussing on Whoops by John Lanchester which is non-fiction and explains how the world financial crisis cmae about.

7. Continue my blog after the marathon

This sounds like a bit of a cop-out resolution but I really enjoyed blogging about the marathon and the training and I wanted to continue writing this (albeit less frequently) if I could.

I'm finding things to write about a bit difficult to come by at times, but I'd like to think I'm doing a decent job of only writing when I have something to say rather than blogging every week just for the sake of it.

The one year anniversary of We Were Promised Hoverboards is on the 9th of September so hopefully I'll be able to make it through to that and have something to celebrate.

8. Support the community via sponsorship/donations etc

This came about because I was asked to support a few things in my local community last year and I wanted to try and do that again if possible.

I'll be honest in saying that I've not done much on this so far this year but I'm hoping I'll be able to contribute and make a difference before the year is out.

I did recently sponsor a charity festival in Harrogate which allowed a friend to raise about £1400 for charity so I suppose that would count.  Hopefully I can do something closer to home in the next few months.

9. Expand the smaller areas of my company

This is another one where I haven't really done anything worth shouting about.  I work for myself doing consultancy work for the most part, but I've tried to develop a bit of a sideline in doing web design and some photography.

As I alluded to in point 3 above, I haven't really done as much there as I'd like and, despite some advertising, there's not been much call for the web design service I'm offering.

Again, I think there's the opportunity to change this before the year is out, but I'll not be too disappointed if this is the one that gets away as my main line of work takes up most of my time.

10. Make some friends

This sounds like a bit of a poor resolution as well, but it's not without ground.  I moved back to my home town early last year and whilst everything looks incredibly familiar, the people I used to know are now really just Facebook friends and nothing more.

Working for myself means I'm often changing jobs and so developing "work friends" as is normal in most jobs is a bit more difficult for me.

I've been really lucky to connect with a good group of people on Twitter who all share a common love of Sheffield Wednesday and we've all got together before a few games this year.  I'm sure we'll all manage that again a few times this coming season too.

So really that's how the first half of my year is going against my "plan".  I've got the original list of resolutions taped up against my oven at home and it's good to have them visible as a bit of a reminder.  I'm not convinced I'll be able to tick all 10 off by New Year's Eve, but if I get through more than half then I'll be veyr happy.

Thanks for reading - appreciate I've gone on a bit there.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Starting over

Hello again

This past week has had a distinct feeling of starting from scratch and venturing into the relative unknown.

You may remember I spoke a little about Resolutions a week or so ago and since then I've been making a big effort to keep with them.

I've worked through about 3 hours of Italian audio and was pleasantly surprised that I remember more than I thought I knew.  I last had a crack at it back in 2006 when I got married and we went to Rome for our honeymoon.  It's still a bit basic but I should get somewhere with it if I persevere.  My main learning time is in the car to and from work a couple of days a week - I have a mini audio course on my iPod.  I think that will get me so far but I probably need to do a bit of work away from that to be able to really get to grips with it.

My other resolution was to learn guitar and that's going OK as well.  I've managed to learn 7 or 8 chords but I'm predictably finding stringing them together into something familiar a bit more difficult.  Obviously patience and practice are key here and to think I would be able to play anything in such a short space of time would be foolish.  That said, I've managed to learn a couple of simple nursery rhymes to keep my daughter onside.  I'm making the effort to pick the guitar up for about 15 or 20 minutes every day and I think that'll really help.  In the evenings I'm trying to watch the football with the sound muted whilst I "practice" and that's helping a little.  Hopefully I'll get to something passable by Christmas.

I've also done my first post-marathon run this last week and that's been a bit of a shock to the system.  It's not wholly unexpected as I'd not run for about 50 days for a variety of reasons (blisters, brusing, holidays to name three) but it's something I want to keep doing and now I know what I'm capable of, it all seems a bit more straight forward.  I'm entered in the Great Yorkshire Run at the start of September which is a 10km route around Sheffield and so I'm effectively starting over in preparation for that.  I'm revisiting my old 2 mile route twice a week at the moment just to get back into a routine.  I'll keep upping that distance when I get back to a decent level of fitness. 

Once again, I'm running for Diabetes UK and Sheffield Children's Hospital but this time I'm trying to raise a more modest £200.  If you feel like you can spare perhaps £2 for two worthy causes you can donate here (you'll have to click on the Great Yorkshire Run 2012 page).  If I reach my target for this run, I'll have raised £1700 for charity this year which would be incredible.

My wife has put together a record of the marathon journey we went through in a photobook.  Whilst the real thing hasn't been delievered yet, I have a link of what it will look like so if you're a little interested, you can see it here (I'd look at it in full screen for best results)

I suppose this post should have an actual point (it would make a change eh?)  Whilst trying something new can be a bit daunting and frustrating, I'm feeling positive about the challenges.  I think previously I've probably been a bit immature or fickle to really be able to sit down and learn a new skill.  It's fair to say that in the past, I've been quick to get bored of something if it's not going my way.  I think there's still a slim chance of that happening (it'd be a bit short sighted to think I've totally changed in the last few weeks or months) but hopefully I can stick with it.

I've started to find a genuine interest in things that would have previously passed me by and whilst I'll continue to waste a few hours playing Xbox or watching some second rate TV, I feel like I've found things that will give me some genuine enjoyment which can't be a bad thing can it?

I guess it's never too late to try your hand at something new.

Talk to you soon


Thursday, 7 June 2012



I mentioned last time that I'd write a post about my visit to Auschwitz, and this is it.  it may be a bit long and I apologise for that in advance.

I'll say at the outset that I'm not sure I'll be able to articulate the experince as well as I'd like but I'll do my best.  I've included a few photos below but nothing too upsetting (I hope).  I've changed them to black and white images because it was a gloriously sunny day when I visited and to me, it sort of seemed strange to show it in the sunshine.  I'm also going to try and refrain from going over too many historical specifics where I can because I'll only get things wrong and muddled and that, of course, is not my intention.

The tour I went on was around both the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps (those are the German names of the Polish towns Oświęcim and Brzezinka).  There is another camp in Monowice (Monowitz in German) quite close by - a labour camp at a chemical plant but the tour doesn't take you there.  I'm not sure if you can visit it of your own accord.

The tour is split with two hours at Auschwitz and a further hour at Birkenau.  We started out (as did all tour parties that were there) just outside the main building, next to the camp kitchen where our guide Evaline gave us some history about when the camp was built and it's purpose (a prison for Polish political prisoners in the first instance).

Camp kitchen (left) and main building
Looming in the background is the gate to the camp and the ominous "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" sign above them.  I found myself holding my breath a lot as we walked into different blocks of the camp.  I didn't take as many photographs as I normally would because it ultimately didn't feel like the right thing to do.  You are allowed to take pictures virtually anywhere (it's forbidden in a few select places) but I didn't want to reduce my experience to a load of "holiday snaps".  It's worth pointing out that other people on my tour group didn't have as many reservations as I did, but it's each to their own I suppose.

Entrance to Auschwitz
There were 20 original blocks at Auschwitz whilst the Nazis built an additional 8 during the war.  The tour took us round 4 or 5 of these which are open to the public.  It's worth pointing out here that Auschwitz-Birkenau is an official museum and as such some of the blocks house exhibits, photographs and documents - the way in which it's organised and preserved is incredible.

The earlier exhibits focus on the deportations to the camp from across Europe as well as explaining the "selection process" that was followed at Birkenau.  Whilst the atrocities are well known and documented (and are certainly not for me to go over again here), the guide still told us things that I certainly didn't know - for example, some people actually voluntarily bought tickets to Auschwitz believing that this would offer respite from the war and, whilst still being under Nazi occupation, they'd have a better standard of living.  Those tickets are on display for you to see.

The tour carries on with the exhibits that do their best to bring home the scale of what happened.  One room houses a 100ft long display case with two tonnes of human hair that was shaved from the heads of prisoners (the Nazis sold it, using the money to fund the war).  Another shows hundreds of suitcases with names written on the front (people were never reunited with their possessions) and one room has 40,000 pairs of shoes that were taken from prisoners.

Shoes taken from prisoners
Blocks 10 and 11 are particularly moving.  Block 10 was where women and children were held and subjected to 'experiments' by Dr Josef Mengele (who died a free man).  Across the courtyard is Block 11, the so called "Death Block".  Here, the Nazis held court over prisoners who had broken camp rules.  They were invariably sentenced to death and taken out to be shot in the courtyard between the two blocks.  Inside the walls are covered in photos of prisoners who died at Aushwitz. 

The lower level of Block 11 contains the cells where prisoners were kept, including standing cells (where prisoners could do nothing but stand all night and then go back to work the next day) and starvation cells (where prisoners were locked away without food or water until they died).  The cells were also the site of the first test of Zyklon B gas where about 850 people were killed in 1941. The tour lets you see these cells for yourselves.

Courtyard between Blocks 11 (left) and 10 - windows boarded  up to prevent prisoners seeing out
After that we walked back towards the entrance, passing the gallows where Rudolf Hoess was executed for his role as First Commandant at Auschwitz.  The house he lived in with his wife and child is visible but not part of the tour.  It lies about 30 feet from the fence around the camp and about 150 feet away from the gas chamber and crematorium.  The final part of the tour leads you into the gas chamber and then into the crematorium.  Whilst it's not for very long, walking into a gas chamber is an incredibly sobering experience and something that's incredibly difficult to forget.  The full horror of what happened was recounted by our guide but I don't think it's appropriate to go into it here.

We then got back on our mini bus to go to Birkenau (it's about 2 miles from Auschwitz).  What really strikes you is the sheer scale of the place - I'd say it's at least 4 times the size of Auschwitz (though I'm happy to be corrected).  Birkenau was mainly an extermination camp (Auschwitz predominantly being a labour camp) and approximately 1.1m people were killed here (up to 450,000 in one summer in 1944).

We walked down the train tracks that bisect the camp (where the 'selection process' took place) and saw one of the original carriages that brought people to Birkenau.  On the right is the remains of wooden buildings that were torn down at the end of the war - brick chimney stacks are all that remain (though a few buildings have bee reconstructed) and stretch out to what feels like the horizon.  On the left are the original brick buildings where the women where interned.
Train tracks at Birkenau looking back towards to camp entrance
The tour walks down to the far end of the camp where the railway line comes to an abrupt end and there now stands a memorial. There are 22 separate inscriptions, each in a different language (one for each of the nationalities that suffered at the hands of the Nazis).  On either side of the tracks are the remains of 2 gas chambers and 2 crematoria (the Nazis destroyed them as they fled from the Soviets).  The rubble remains untouched.  At the side of one dilapidated chimney stack are two pools where ashes were dumped (and still remain to this day).

Demolished crematorium
The final part of our tour took us through 3 of the brick buildings that were used as sleeping quarters, wash rooms and toilets for women prisoners.  We were told that thousands of people would queue twice daily for the toilets (as that is all that was allowed) and were given only 10 seconds before being moved on.  The sleeping quarters were continuously rife with lice, rats and disease.  Prisoners were fed approximately 800 calories worth of food per day, a lot of it rotten.  A number of people who survived the camp and were freed by the Soviets died shortly after as they ate too much too quickly - history was not equipped to understand how to save people that were so utterly malnourished.
Chimney stacks of the demolished buildings
It's difficult to put into words how the experience makes you feel.  I knew of what happened before I visited, but it all seemed so abstract in a way.  Knowing the facts and figures of the Holocaust is one thing, but to be there and see it is something else entirely.  It's still hard to translate what you see and hear into understanding how hundreds of thousands of people could be murdered in such a fashion.  It almost seems trite to say that it's an emotionally exhausting day - living through it is unimaginable - but seeing only a fraction of the camps and hearing only about a number of the atrocities that were carried out is completely sobering.  I'm glad I went and if you ever have the opportunity to visit then I'd recommend that you do.  But I don't think you can ever be prepared for it.

Thanks for reading - I hope that was of some interest to you.  Apologies for how long it went on.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Hello again

First up, apologies that I've become a bit erratic at posting lately, I will endeavour to do better in the coming weeks.  I've started two previous posts that have been abandoned either due to time constraints or the fact that they just sounded boring.  You deserve better.

So the most recent things of note that have occurred are that I visited Krakow in Poland and I turned 31.  As it happened these things actually overlapped but that was more of a coincidence than anything else.  We'd all gone over for the wedding of some friends which was a really incredible day.  As we were taking Violet, we'd decided to make a week of it and have a proper holiday.

Overall, it was about as exhausting as I expected but it meant that we could just take things a bit easier (read: spend lots of time in cafes) and enjoy the time away a bit.   If you've never been, I can recommend it, though I think 7 nights was a bit too long.  I'll talk a bit more about Krakow and my visit to Auschwitz in a separate post.

Being away did give me time to do some things I don't usually make time for when I'm at home - the most obvious of which is reading.  I managed to get through three books in 6 days which was very enjoyable, and one of which prompted this post.

I did a post at the end of December that touched on things that I had to look forward to in 2012 and I also made 10 New Year's Resolutions which didn't feature in that blog.  I'll be doing a half year review of how they're going sometime this month.  Celebrating the 10th anniversary of my 21st got me thinking a bit.  Training for the marathon obviously meant using a lot of discipline and I figured I should be able to use that for other things too.

And then I read "Guitar Man" by Will Hodgkinson.  It's no secret that I'm a big music fan, and it's equally no secret that my biggest regret is never learning to play guitar.   The book is a true story of a man (Will) who decides, at 34 to learn guitar and play a live gig of sorts in 6 months.  Now obviously I'm not that crazy, but I've decided that if he can do it, then there's no reason I can't try either.  I'm horribly uncoordinated but I'm going to give it a go.  And so, Birthday Resolutions were born.

I've made two as it happens, learn guitar and learn Italian.  Languages were something I always had a knack for when I was at school, and after stumbling through some Polish, I decided that I should be able to give an "easier" language  a try and get to a decent standard.  Plus I have all the free CDs I collected off a paper before I went to Rome on my honeymoon.

So today I have made the first steps in trying to achieve these two goals.  I dug the battered old classical guitar (I want a new acoustic but Mrs B is yet to be convinced I'll stick with this for more than a month) out of the wardrobe and restrung and tuned it.  It's worth pointing out that this thing is definitely older than I am but it makes a decent noise.   I've also put all the Italian CDs on my iPod and started going through them in the odd spare 15 minutes.

I'm under no illusions that any of this will be easy.  I've tried to learn guitar countless times throughout my life and I've never got anywhere.  But I've got a feeling this time it might be different.

I'll try not to post relentless updates about this stuff because it will be a slow process.  But I'll check in from time to time, to give myself the motivation to keep going if nothing else.

Whilst I'm on a music post, if you haven't listened to any of the new albums by Ladyhawke, Richard Hawley, Jack White, Citizens! or Howler then I'd give them as spin as I'm really enjoying them.

And finally, on June 16th I'll be at a mini-festival in Pannal near Harrogate that a friend of mine has organised to support the MNDA after she lost her mother last year.  If you're in the area and fancy parting with £15 to see 6 or 7 bands over 2 stages as well as talks by authors and chefs etc then you reserve tickets by e-mailing thumb.to.the.string@gmail.com and then paying for them on the door.  There's a Facebook page and here are the details of the event.  I'll be behind the bar for a bit of the day as well as roadie-ing so if you do come down, please say hi.

Thanks for sticking with me a bit there.  Hopefully I've not turned you all away permanently.

Talk to you all soon