Bucket List #27 – Run Snowdonia Marathon

Awe-inspiringly beautiful and epically hard, Snowdonia Marathon has been on my bucket list ever since running my first marathon in 2008.

I am delighted to say that I completed it on Saturday 24th October 2015, finishing with a chip time of 4:23:31.

More to follow when I have time.

I suspect that the next item on my Bucket List will prove to be an even harder challenge: #26 Run a sub-40 10k.

Bucket List #13 – Walk the Maelor Way

Walking the Maelor Way

The Maelor Way is a 24-mile cross country trail, between Grindley Brook near Whitchurch and Bronygarth near Chirk. It was officially opened on April 6th 1991, and was conceived to link the Sandstone Trail with Offa’s Dyke Path (Bucket List #14).

I added it to my Bucket List largely because it is signposted quite prominently in Overton-on-Dee which I drive though often, as a result of which I have developed a yearning to walk it. I mentioned the vague possibility of walking it to my friend Phil, who suggested we walk it this half term. I tried to round up a group of other friends who might be interested, but a combination of work and family commitments meant that in the end it was Phil, my regular running partner Graeme and I who set off from Grindley Brook at around 11:00 am on Thursday May 29th, 2015.

I had naively thought that we might be able to complete the full walk in a day. Our average speed of around 2 mph quickly led us to moderate our ambition to reaching Overton-on-Dee, at somewhere over the halfway mark.

After a picnic lunch at Llyn Bedydd we passed through Hanmer and on to Penley. Graeme had worn shorts, having not anticipated the number of nettles we encountered, particularly around stiles. He was also suffering quite badly from blisters and at this point it became apparent that he was unlikely to make it from Penley to Overton-upon-Dee. Phil phoned his wife who collected him and Graeme, dropping Graeme off at the White Horse in Overton while I carried on .

I completed the first leg of the Maelor Way in Overton at around 7:30pm , joining Graeme in the White Horse  to enjoy a well-deserved pint of “Slumbering Monk”.

On Friday I set off from Overton-on-Dee at 10:20am, having left the car in the car park behind the church. The walking on the second day was more varied and picturesque. The weather, however, was changeable.

I reached Bronygarth – the official end of the Maelor Way at 3:30pm, after just over 5 hours of walking, and stopped for a celebratory late picnic lunch before heading off on the 4.5 miles to Froncysyllte, where Jude, Isi and India collected me.

 

My Resolutions for 2015

It seems particularly typical of my current state of being that I am only writing my resolutions for the coming year on the 6th April.

Particularly so as 2015 is an auspicious year. I turned 49 on New Year’s Eve last year, so this year marks the start of a new 7 year plan, and the lead into my 50s – the decade when I hope to see a fundamental shift from work to life. I will write more about my aims with regard to this later.

In the meantime:

  1. Give up smoking
    As I write this I last smoked on September 24th last year, so I’m almost 6 months into this resolution. This time I hope it will last.
  2. Achieve and maintain my target weight of 185 lbs.
    Starting point is a shocking 213lbs, so I have exactly two stone to lose. Target date is October 24th, when I run Snowdonia marathon.

    As for the rest I’ll simply repeat the ones I made in 2013
  3. I will not shout at my children. No exceptions.
  4. I will have more fun.
  5. I will set and achieve one business objective each day.
  6. I will somehow work 35 hours a week, 42 weeks of the year. On average.
  7. I will go to church at least once a month.
    I have been very lapse with this – but I went yesterday and will stick to this one. Religiously.
  8. I will run every week.
  9. I will spend 15 minutes each day learning Spanish.
  10. I will do the Royal Canadian 5BX programme, every day. Starting today.
    Started today.
  11. I will start one side-project and work on it for two hours a week. I hope to earn more than £1 per hour.

 

Bucket List #23 – See Pete Doherty play live

Pete Doherty playing at Society, Coventry

My 13 year old daughter teases that I have a man-crush on Pete Doherty. I stand guilty as charged. The epitome of elegantly wasted, he has raised bohemianism to an art form.  Even setting aside his music, his penchant for classic Jags, supermodels, wine, cigarettes and deviance from the social mores of our time prove a heady mix for any middle-aged man fondly recalling his own days of hell-raising and hedonism.

Looking back I realise that the characteristics that in my twenties gave me the slightly romantic air of being tragically flawed,  seemed by my late thirties to be merely a tragic waste of my own talents. In my forties I lost my best friend to a lifetime of hard drinking, and began to clean up my own act, shifting my gaze to the pure and simple pleasures of Arcady.

Those who push boundaries – their own and those of them around them – to the very limits, and occasionally beyond –  have always appealed to me.  Pete, Jim , Keith, Hunter.  Their self-destructiveness vicariously feeds my own tendencies. There but for the grace of god and the love of a good woman go I.

In a  very twenty-first century way Pete embodied this when he lit a cigarette on stage during his guerilla set in the appropriately sleazy upstairs room at Society in Coventry. His casual disregard for the petty, nannying rules of modern Britain incited anarchic cries from the crowd – “Pete’s smoking, so can we”.

It was the combination of Pete Doherty’s music and this devil-may-care attitude to life that put seeing him perform live onto my bucket list when I drew it up last year. His music has been a staple of the Hibbott family soundtrack for a while. At the time, nine months ago and before he got clean in Thailand, it felt like there may not be much time left to see him before his lifestyle caught up with him.

To make sure that I didn’t miss the opportunity to see him play I started following him on Facebook, and late last month I was excited to discover that he was playing this intimate “one-off” gig in the upstairs room at Society in Coventry that night. Billed as a homecoming gig, it is said to be his last before heading back into the studio to record a long-awaited new Libertines album.

Pete Doherty, Society, Coventry Friday 27th February 2015

I sent Jude an email to see if she  was on for a spontaneous adventure, half expecting a regretful no. To my delight she completely bought into the excitement of it all and I hurriedly bought the tickets online. We set off to see the him play just a few hours later.

Apart from Plaxstock, an invitation-only musical festival we have attended a few memorable times it is rather shockingly the first live gig I’ve seen since The Stranglers played Thessaloniki in about 1995. It was a perfect re-introduction to live music.

The support bands – April, Yes Sunshine and Pretty Rascals – were good, but like most of the rest of the crowd we had come to see Pete.

He arrived fashionably late  – enough for us to be relieved when did finally come on, looking happy and healthy –  and performed a set that included many of my favourite songs: including ‘ What Katy Did?’ (a family favourite), ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and the new and poignant ‘Flags of the Old Regime’, written for Amy Winehouse.

As a souvenir of a wonderful night I am now the proud possessor of a signed ‘Flags of the Old Regime’ poster scrawled “Up yours, Pete Doherty”.

Improving Page Load Time for WordPress

Pingdom Website Speed Test

I have recently been spending some time looking at ways of improving page load time for WordPress websites. This has the twin benefits of improving user experience whilst at the same time improving Google ranking.

In this article I will look at some practical ways in which I am seeking to improve the page load time on this website.

Benchmarking is critical when seeking to bring about measurable, quantifiable improvements in page speed. One possible test model would involve measuring page load speed on a clean default installation of WordPress and then again after adding individual plugins, or replacing templates. However, some results would be more relevant when performed on a site containing a representative sample of content.

This blog, started in 2008 and subject to repeated and prolonged periods of neglect since then, is as good a place to start as any.

Improving site speed with W3 Total Cache on a Shared Server

GTmetrix results after installing W3 Total cache

I am currently developing a WordPress website for a Equine Breakdown company. The site features an eCommerce shop powered by WooCommerce.  This enables customers to purchase breakdown cover online, and pay using payPal or by Direct Debit.

When launched the site will run on a Virtual Private Server, but in the meantime I am developing it in a test server environment on a Shared Server.

My Bucket List

Meteora, Greece.During my annual sojourn to Andalucía last summer I sat up late one evening making a preliminary list of things that I have left undone or would like to do, and places I would like to visit.

The choices you make when compiling a “bucket list” define you in much the same way that the books on your bookshelves do. I was surprised on reading mine to discover how many of them involve going for very long walks, climbing things and watersports. This list is, of course, a work in progress and will remain tantalisingly incomplete.

  1. Visit Meteora
  2. Climb Mount Olympus
  3. Climb Scafell Pike
  4. Climb Ben Nevis
  5. Walk the Camino de Compostela de Santiago
  6. Trek the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean
  7. Learn to Surf
  8. Visit the Great Barrier Reef
  9. Trek Machu Picchu
  10. Walk the Pacific Crest Trail
  11. Drive across America, possibly along Route 66
  12. Learn to sail
  13.  Walk the Maelor Way  Completed Thursday 29th-Friday 30th May, 2015. See the report here.
  14. Walk the Offa’s Dyke Path
  15. Complete an Ironman
  16. Complete the Grand Union Canal Race
  17. Learn to scuba dive
  18. Learn to windsurf
  19. Trek the Himalayas
  20. Visit the Taj Mahal
  21. Live in Spain for between 6 months and 2 years
  22. Learn to speak Spanish well enough to have a barbershop conversation
  23. See Pete Doherty play live Society Nightclub, Coventry, 27th February 2015. Read more about the gig here.
  24. Complete the Across Wales walk
  25. Sail from the UK to Greece
  26. Run a sub-40 10k
    I’m not absolutely sure that is achievable, given that my current PB of 46:07 was achieved 4 years ago, when I was considerably fitter (and younger) than I am now. If it is possible then it is something I’m going to have to tackle promptly. It is therefore my next planned target after the next item on the list, Snowdonia Marathon.
  27. Run Snowdonia marathon Completed Saturday 24th October, 2015. Read more about my Snowdonia Marathon here.
  28. Achieve a Good-for-age place in London Marathon
    To achieve this before the age of 60 I would need to run a marathon in under 3:20. This seems unlikely. Alternatively, I would need to achieve a personal best of sub 3:45 between the ages of 60-64 or sub 4:00 before the age of 70. The latter seems barely feasible, so it seems most likely, therefore, that if I am to achieve this I will need to remain fit and healthy enough to manage a sub 5 hour marathon after I reach the age of 70.
  29. Circumnavigate the World
  30. Give up smoking

If I can achieve just one of these goals each year my initial list of 30 things will be completed just before my 80th birthday. I’ll attempt to update the list as and when I cross each item off.

I gave up smoking on the 24th September 2014, so I’m tackling the most difficult one first.

In all that I do I vow to live by the words of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

I have decided to add one task on for each I cross off. Having seen Pete Doherty play and Walked the Maelor Way I’m adding on:

31. See a total (100%) solar eclipse
32. Run with the bulls at Pamplona

Day 1316 – The Rebirth of Mummy Cool

Back in September 2009 I conceived an idea for a side project and Mummywear Maternity was born.

We were having dinner with friends and discussing possible ideas for a web project. Perhaps because they had 5 children, and at the time we had 2, the conversation shifted to child-centric websites and I mooted the idea of a comparison site for new parents. The concept was simple – to offer a showcase of the best maternity products available on the internet, allowing parents and parents-to-be the opportunity to compare a variety of maternity clothes and nursery products in one place, side by side. Monetisation was to be through affiliate links to the sites retailing the featured products. At the time, the idea was a novel one.

When we got home I further researched the idea. There seemed to be no sites that provided a similar offering and in my excitement I purchased a number of relevant domain names suitable for the project.

I also began to blog about the project. For all of 5 days. Read about days 1 to 5 here. (Spoiler – nothing much happens.)

Fast forward 4 years and I’ve done precisely nothing with the idea. My two children have been joined by a third, India, born in 2010. School fees and the demands of running a business while looking after a 3-year old mean that my finances desperately require a cash injection.  So here goes.

Follow my progress as I launch a new business in troubled times in an effort to achieve financial freedom, fire my clients and achieve that all-important work-life balance. Day 1316 is ground zero, second time around.

I intend to devote just one hour each day to the project, with the aim of building a business that generates £6k per year. By blogging about the steps I am taking, the strategies I intend to implement, and my success (or failure) I realise I am leaving myself completely open to someone else hijacking my concept. If you do succeed where I fail please get in touch and I’ll offer you my congratulations, while kicking myself soundly for being so stupid. Then I’ll take comfort in the fact that you’ve proved the concept and start over using one of the other 3 ideas I’ve sidelined to pursue this one.

I hope that I start from a position of relative strength:

As a web developer of 10 years standing I bring to the table experience in developing eCommerce websites and a strong knowledge of  design, internet marketing and SEO. Lets start by looking at the assets I have in place to date.

1. Domains

I already own a number of keyword rich relevant (ish) established domains.

These are www.mummycool.co.uk, www.mummycool.com, www.mummywear.co.uk, www.mummywearmaternity.co.uk and www.mummywearmaternity.com

2. Hosting

I have a reseller account with Heart Internet which means I can host the site/sites at no marginal cost.

3. Social Media

I have a Twitter account dating back to September 2009 – http://twitter.com/mummywear – with 114 followers. Oh, and a Pinterest account that I have just rediscovered at http://pinterest.com/coolmummies/ with 0 boards, 0 pins and that all-important metric – 0 followers.

4. Development Experience

I have a number of years experience developing Joomla!/Virtuemart and WordPress/WooCommerce websites. Specifically, I have developed a concept-proving affiliate site in partnership with a client which generates tiny, but consistent affiliate income.

It is my intention to be completely transparent in what I do – partly to document my progress and partly because I hope that this website will become an authority site for others attempting to do the same thing. With this in mind I undertake to share quite openly the steps I take in setting up and running the project. I will also publish full and open details of any profits and expenses incurred, starting on June 1st, 2013.

The time has come to test whether I can utilise these assets and apply these principles to enriching myself rather than my clients.

 

My resolutions for 2013

My resolutions for 2013 are:

  1. Smoking. Best to tackle this one first. I resolve only to smoke Camel cigarettes. Where I live in rural Shropshire this is tantamount to giving up anyway, while leaving the door open to smoke in more exotic climes.
  2. I will not shout at my children. No exceptions.
  3. I will have more fun.
  4. I will set and achieve one business objective each day.
  5. I will somehow work 35 hours a week, 42 weeks of the year. On average.
  6. I will go to church at least once a month.
  7. I will run every week.
  8. I will spend 15 minutes each day learning Spanish.
  9. I will do the Royal Canadian 5BX programme, every day. Starting today.
  10. I will start one side-project and work on it for two hours a week. I hope to earn more than £1 per hour.

 

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