Work on what you want week!

It is all too easy to spend all of one’s life working to meet deadlines and catch up with outstanding work.

I’ve just read about a neat idea to allow time to develop those personal projects which are easily often neglected in the day-to-day grind of paying the mortgage and school fees:

“At, work on what you want week (wowyww) happens once a quarter: the idea is we give all our developers free rein to hack on anything they want, so long as it’s somewhat related to one of our products.”

I’m hereby iplementing this idea at Generation X Computers. The first “Work on what you want week!” will take place from the 31st December 2012 until 6th January 2013. As New Year’s Eve is my birthday I can consider it a little birthday present to myself.

Subsequent Work on what you want weeks are scheduled for:

1st – 7th April 2013

1st – 7th July 2013

30th September – 6th October 2013.

Now, back to the day-to-day grind!

Our new Shropshire holiday cottage

Shropshire Holiday Cottage: The Inglenook, with the newly serviced Rayburn oven.

Shropshire Holiday Cottage: The Inglenook, with the newly serviced Rayburn oven.We have just completed the purchase of a pretty 2-bedroom cottage in the market town of Ellesmere, Shropshire.  It is full of character and charm, with an Inglenook fireplace, a Rayburn oven, and lots of original features including wooden floorboards, open beams and wall timbers. We’re currently adding a luxurious new kitchen, upgrading the bathroom, redecorating throughout and adding a decking area to enhance the already pretty back garden. It should be available as a holiday let from March 1st, 2012.

Tentatively named Apple Tree Cottage, we think it will make an ideal self-catering holiday cottage. Shropshire is a beautiful county, and the holiday cottage is ideally located just 200 metres from Ellesmere’s pretty town centre, but equally close to the lovely Shropshire countryside and the Shropshire Union Canal. It is also conveniently located for Ellesmere College, which is just a mile away along country lanes.

I’m currently in the process of developing a website at the imaginatively named Shropshire Holiday Cottage website

In the meantime contact me on 01691 624903 for further details, or to make a booking.

I heard this poem today at a funeral

Today I attended the funeral of the husband of a friend/client of mine. He killed himself last week, while she was at a business meeting with me. She read the following touchingly apt poem, The Station by Robert J. Hastings, as her eulogy to her husband:

“Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there, so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering – waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

“When we reach the station, that will be it!” we cry. “When I’m 18.” “When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz!” “When I put the last kid through college.” “When I have paid off the mortgage!” “When I get a promotion.” “When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after!”

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Palm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough. “

The Station is included in Robert Hastings’ The Station: A Reminder to Cherish the Journey. It can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon US.

My Seven Year Plan

Buy a hill in SpainOver the years I have developed and refined a theory which I call the 7 Year Plan.

It is based on my experiences of my dad’s roller-coaster business life, and in particular the decade from 1970 to 1980 which he started assetless in Australia and ended as chairman and managing director of a public company in New Zealand, with a small property portfolio.

Essentially from any starting point I believe that it it possible to reach a point where you can cash in and retire within a period of seven to ten years.

My seven year plan is not quite so ambitious – I fear that achieving full retirement would demand too many compromises in terms of work/life balance , particularly as central to the plan is to shift the balance increasingly onto the life side. The reasons for this will become obvious later.

The plan need not be purely wealth or business related. It works on the premise that by defining and visualising your goals you are able to quantify and achieve them.

The key points of my plan, which will take me to the age of 50, are to:

  1. Become near fluent in Spanish.
  2. Run a sub 4 hour marathon Achieved in 2010.
  3. Send the children to private schools Achieved in 2010.
  4. Buy a second investment property in the UK Achieved in 2011.
  5. Buy a family house in Spain.

I intend to achieve these by further developing my existing business, Generation X, and developing a number of additional web-based projects which will provide the required income or capital. I’ll blog about these in more depth as they develop. [*update – the first of these is Mummywear Maternity]

Incidentally, the image accompanying this article is the view from a property in Spain I have my eye on, which would nicely satisfy point 5 of the plan, at a budget of 87,000 euros in 2009 terms.

Happy birthday Generation X Computers…

My web design and development company, Generation X has just celebrated its fifth birthday. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when it was born…the name Generation X Computers was first conceived back in the mid-90s, when I was selling computers and software for LSI Computers in Warrington. However it was only around 2003 that I began to write HTML and discovered a real passion for web design.

I registered the domain on the 9th October 2003, and registered Generation X Computers Ltd as a limited company the following week on the 14th October. For the purpose of an official birthday I’ve decided to go with the latter. It was actually a few months later on the 5th April 2004 that I took the plunge and officially became a full time web designer.

It would have been nice to have relaxed and celebrated, but this week has flown by in a blur of late nights and pressing deadlines. Even at 5, Generation X is still a demanding child. And rather like the soul-searching that comes when a child reaches school age, it is a good time to look back… and forward.

Established wisdom has it that UK start-ups have a failure rate of over 50% in their first two years. Depending on the statistics you read small business failure rates are anywhere between 30% and 90% within the first 3-5 years. More specifically, 2007 research by accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young highlights annual failure rates of 8.9% for businesses in the Marketing Services Industry, and 6.3% for those in IT services…so Generation X must have been doing something right. However, I’m happy to admit that we also have a lot of lessons to learn and apply over the coming years.

The Times 100 website, for example, lists 10 common reasons for business failure:  poor marketing, cash flow problems, poor business planning, lack of finance, failure to embrace new technologies and developments, poor choice of location, poor management, poor human resource relations, lack of clear objectives and particularly in the case of .com start-ups the difficulties encountered in building a brand in competition with more established brand names. I think that we can improve in at least 7 of these areas in our next 5 years.

In particular, I feel that time is long overdue to look at the issues of business planning and marketing. In times of global crisis I count myself fortunate to have a full order book with enough work to see me into 2009. However, it also seems a portentous time to focus on the future. In particular I plan to develop the Generation X brand in Shropshire, Cheshire and the Midlands, expanding our focus into marketing and graphic design as well as web design and development. I also have the infrastructure in place to develop the web hosting and domain registration side of the business.

Anyway…Happy Birthday to me!

The Withnail and I drinking game

Unfortunately, or on consideration perhaps not, I only found the rules for this particular drinking game after I’d become middle-aged and caught sobriety in a big way. I categorically reserve the right, however, to consult this post when I next catch up with my oldest and dearest friend.

Hi, Chris 😉

This is a drinking game associated with Withnail & I, popular amongst fans. The game consists of keeping up, drink for drink, with each and every alcoholic (and other) substance consumed by Withnail and Marwood over the course of the film.

Most players may simply drink their beverage of choice regardless of what the characters consume, though this is viewed by the more “hardcore” Withnail & I fans (and I have always considered myself a hardcore fan) as an “easy way out.” All told, Withnail drinks roughly 9 1/2 glasses of red wine, 1/2 pint of cider, 1 shot of lighter fluid (vinegar or overproof rum are recommended substitutes), 2 1/2 shots of gin, 6 glasses of sherry, 13 whiskeys and 1/2 a pint of ale. Seeing as the whiskey alone would be more than enough to necessitate a trip to hospital for most people, few people, if any, keep pace for the entire film.

The Withnail and I drinking game is played while watching that film, and involves matching the title character drink for drink. Note that only consumption visible on screen is counted – while we may know that, for instance, Withnail has just finished a pint of beer there is no need to join him in it if we didn’t see him drink it. For planning purposes, a complete list of everything that passes Withnail’s lips on screen is presented below. Since drinks of different types sometimes follow in quick succession, in order to keep up it will probably be useful to keep a “buffer” of the next few drinks ready to go at all times.

  • mouthful of red wine
  • “Lighter fluid” (eg overproof rum)
  • double gin
  • finger of cider (with ice)
  • finger of cider (with ice)
  • finger of cider (with ice)
  • glass of sherry
  • two big chugs of sherry
  • mouthful of sherry
  • sip of sherry
  • double whisky
  • mouthful of whisky
  • mouthful of whisky
  • mouthful of whisky
  • mouthful of whisky
  • splash of whisky
  • single Teachers
  • double Teachers
  • double Teachers
  • single Teachers
  • sip of sherry
  • three fingers of ale
  • sip of red wine
  • gulp of sherry
  • small glass of red wine
  • sip of red wine
  • half glass of red wine
  • sip of something white (gin & bitter lemon?)
  • sip of red wine
  • sip of red wine
  • gulp of red wine
  • gulp of red wine
  • finger of red wine
  • finger of red wine
  • gulp of red wine (“’53 Margaux”)
  • gulp of red wine (“’53 Margaux”)
  • gulp of red wine (“’53 Margaux”)
  • gulp of red wine (“’53 Margaux”)

My first marathon

On Sunday I ran the Anglesey Marathon. We and some friends – my running partner Graeme and his family – rented a cottage and made a bit of a weekend of it. Jude and I used to visit Anglesey quite often around the time we got married, but I’d forgotten just what a beautiful island it is. On Saturday we all visited Newborough beach, and after eating a lunch of fish and chips by the sea we went swimming. It was a bit on the cold side, but it was such a warm sunny day we couldn’t resist the lure of the waves.

The marathon itself, on Sunday morning, was a really good experience. I had already heard that the course was quite hilly and that proved to be the case. Graeme and I had driven around the course on Saturday but what had seemed quite gentle inclines from the comfort of the car proved somewhat more daunting after 20 or so miles of running.

 I started much too quickly, clocking a sub-8 minute second mile, and paid dearly later on. My Garmin 305 began to play up – on this of all days – at around the 7 mile mark and from then on in I just had to keep going at what seemed a realistic pace. From about mile 12 I began to tire, and it became a real struggle as I hit the serious hills from mile 23 on. I was briefly reduced to a walk, but then fell in behind a girl who was relentlessly slogging up the hill and managed to keep going in an “if she can, I can” kind of way.

I finished with a chip time of 4 hours 21 mins and 6 seconds – slower than I’d hoped but pleasing nevertheless. Graeme and I hope to return next year to see if we can better our times and to enjoy another lovely weekend in the country.

Ellesmere Triathlon Results

Ellesmere Triathlon 2008In spite of my somewhat sporadic training, the triathlon went rather better than I had realistically expected or hoped. My total time was just over 3 hours, with my split times as follows:

Swim, including T1 35:49

Cycle, including T2 1:25:50

Run 59:25

Total 3:00:04

It was a fantastic day, with ideal weather conditions, and I really enjoyed the race. My intention now is to concentrate on my running for the remainder of this year with a view to entering a sprint (probably Oswestry) and another Olympic triathlon (hopefully Ellesmere) next year. I’m planning to keep up my cycle and swim fitness with one session of each every week and hope be able to shave (at least) the extra 5 seconds off to complete my next Olympic under the 3 hour mark!

Full results can be viewed at

Ellesmere Triathlon 2008

Ellesmere Triathlon 2007My mid-life crisis had been progressing quite nicely.

I’ve started running, but amongst my friends that seems almost obligatory. Turn 40, start running, sustain a rather nasty knee injury. Rather like parenthood, taking up running feels like joining a secret club that you didn’t know existed until you became a member.

I’ve even completed a couple of 10k races over the past year and the Lake Vyrnwy half-marathon.

However, this week I’ve considerably raised the stakes. In just over 12 weeks, on June 1st, I will be competing in the Tri-UK Shropshire Triathlon. This is an Olympic (or standard) distance triathlon, comprising an open-water 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike ride, followed by a 10 km run.

My stated aim is simply to complete it. Secretly I’d like to achieve a time of between three and three-and-a-half hours. I suspect this might prove a little ambitious, but everyone needs a goal. As things stand at the outset I have run a 10k race, pretty much on the flat, in 54 minutes. I practised swimming 1.5 kms in our pool on holiday last year three or four times in just under an hour. And I once cycled from Cambridge to Colchester on a 3-speed bike, with a terrible hangover, in just under a day. By accident…but thats another story. Training begins in earnest with a swimming session tonight.

In the words of my dad, “If you win you’re a hero, if you lose you’re a fool”. Time – in this case just 86 days – will tell!

Hello world!

I’ve really been meaning to start blogging for some time now. I was one of those children who would dutifully start keeping a new diary each year, only to abandon it during the first days of January. I’ve had a similar relationship with New Years Resolutions ever since. My birthday is on New Years Eve, and hence New Year already carries a lot of age and goal related baggage.

This blog started life with an article I read on Monday called 10 Steps For Starting a Social Marketing Campaign.

The first step was a call to action –  “Schedule a bit of time each day to do some new things. Don’t just say you are going to do them. Write the time into your day and follow through”. This fits in very well with my new Seven Year Plan, of which more later, and hence this blog was born. 

Now I just need to watch out for Step 10 –  “Don’t freak out…you have other things to do and this needs to fit into, not dominate, your current business and marketing”.

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