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The First Half? Nought to Forty.

There comes a time in a man’s online life where he reaches a milestone age, and decides to try to remember what he was doing all those years, and turns to his memory and his blog to piece together a semi-coherent story.

You know I don’t want to be interviewed on the giffer ward during my last days and only then realize that I “wanted to let myself be happier“. I want to be a little more self aware than that, and not wait to smell the stank breath of the grim reaper fogging down the back of my scrawny neck . If you follow the last link, it talks about the top five regrets of the dying. Listen up people. You’re dying right now.

Like Edith Piaf, I’m not going to spend a thousand words talking about the things I didn’t do, rather the things I did. Over the last forty years.

So what did I get up to in the last forty years?

As the one pound burger in my stomach slowly digests, oxygenated blood is diverted from higher brain function. I’m typing on lizard brain alone, so the edited highlights of the last four decades may be a little curtailed, and possibly filtered through a thermometer. The last eight years has seen me laying on the hot tarmac road of Texas. Before that maybe a few years in three dozen countries interspersed among a decade of woolly clothing in London, and a few decades sprinkled on the middle of England and thereabouts. Whenever I think of a decade in London, I sometimes think I morally decayed in London – in a good way.

So what did I get up to? I had a childhood, a Silver Jubilee Edition Raleigh chopper, a family, all that sort of jazz. My dad would repair things and I would watch eagerly in his garage. I was a red-headed step child. My sister liked horses and I would be dragged along to gymkhanas, sadly missing my Commodore 64. I was smart enough to pass the entrance exam to a private school. Once I got there, I asked a lot of questions to be sure of getting my value. I danced with my first stripper at the age of 13 with my grandparents in Poland, and spent the ages from 11-18 in a single sex school. Unluckily for me, it was all boys.

My most notable job as a teen was at a used car garage, where I learned to enjoy cleaning cars, and also to drive them. I learned about the concept of hourly wages being doled out in a brown paper envelope on a Friday afternoon in time for everyone to go to the pub and drink much beer before returning to an afternoon of driving cars about occasionally crashing them. I also became aware of the need for someone to go and fetch sausage and or bacon cobs for all the other workers, and of the benefits of having the use of a car at all times and access to free petrol. Why be at home as a teenager in a small village in Leicestershire when you can be driving a Ford Sierra down country lanes at what passed for breakneck speed?

After school came university, or college as I liked to call it. Partly as college sounds a little less grand, and I can’t think of anyone in my family before me who had attended a university. Sounding a little less grand appealed. The other good reason I say I went to college was that there was a collegiate system at Oxford, which meant I really did live in a college. Which had it’s own bar. That was a few minutes walk on private property from 400 students. It was a college with a big gate. Kind of castle sized really, and tall walls. Possibly to keep all the lofty ideas from escaping.

I developed a penchant for orange flashing lights and condom machines, wore a baseball cap a lot,  swam in a Mercury fountain. I learned to climb into college when I’d forgotten my key. I lived in a Cathedral, had lunch with the Queen and met some captains of industry and did their maths homework. I developed a deeper appreciation of value for money, and lost myself a few times. I had chosen that particular engineering degree as it lasted four years, and with financial aid for studying, I sought to delay entry into the working world as long as possible.

I got through my fair share of mistakes along the way. In fact I think I went to four lectures during the whole of my second year. They were too early in the morning for me, and my body had still to digest or reject the van-borne kebabs of the early morning. I bounced from the academic safety net of the college a few times, and yet still landing a summer job working on research for bad-ass gun technology for the Defence Research Agency. I was overseen in the true sense of the word by a retired professor who came to the office maybe once a week. Maybe I mean overlooked, not overseen. So I was exposed to relatively high pay, very low responsibility and unlimited access to this new fangled internet thing and a printer. Which meant I printed out literally hundreds of HR Giger pictures of Debbie Harry to festoon about my walls.

Having realized that I spent as many weekends as possible in London anyway, I decided to pass up the opportunity to study at Cambridge for a Masters to do one at the London School of Economics, using more grant money to fuel my social ambitions. It was also a great excuse to have a motorcycle – my dogged determination to avoid the Tube and to lane-split as much as possible. I’m  not sure if this planted the desire to over take as many people as possible, or just reinforced it, but I do know that I like overtaking people, and I don’t like commuting.

I was inspired to travel a little, and started my love of crossing countries. I rode a motorbike across the Sahara to be sure of depleting any funds I had collected through my childhood. I think I went on that trip to get away from people and things, to face my dislike of the heat in a man vs. desert showdown, and to do something that seemed quite studly. It was very character building, and I left realizing that you can do just about anything you put your mind to, especially if your life depends on it. I remember crouching against the scalding hot engine of my Yamaha Tenere XT600Z hiding from the mid-day sun in the sliver of shade the bike provided thinking to myself that if I didn’t fix the tire and get back to what passed for civilization, that I might possibly die all alone in the sand. That would be one of the near-death experiences that I don’t have so much these days.

So, confident that I could conquer just about any challenge, I promptly returned from Africa to live with my mum and claim unemployment benefit. Claiming the birth right of every over-educated British citizen, I would collect my weekly allowance and take it straight to the arcade to play Sega Rally Championship – a game that despite plenty of investment on my part I could never improve at.

Undefeatable at everything else that wasn’t Sega Rally – which was admittedly the only thing I had attempted since declaring to myself that I could do anything that I turned my hand to in the badlands of Western Sahara, I landed a terrible job with a growing small company who claimed to be in London. On arrival, I realized that their office was initially at the very end of the pink line. As far as you can get on the tube from London.

Luckily I had a motorbike. After two years, and only once seeing a colleague drink so much at lunchtime that he could only fall off his chair on his eventual return to the office, I left to join a captain of industry to help him captain some industry. Something to do with the internet. It was that time.

I took to the start up lifestyle – everything revolving around work and people there, as the company swelled from 4 people to 1400. While I enjoyed it thoroughly, it took a lot out of me, and gave me a lot in return. There was much booze and excess. A sabbatical was the order of the day, and off I went, idiotically trying to stop in as many countries around the world as possible while on the way to and from a marine conservation expedition. I realized that living on an island with 20 people was restoring my faith in humanity, and slowed down my rampant assault on the league of nations. I had a great time.

Soon after returning to work in London, I knew I had to do something else. So I set off for Central America, via Spain. I cycled across France, walked across Scotland, and somehow Central America somehow morphed into Austin, TX, where I am typing right now.

It was here that I really developed my car habit. Nothing fancy, but what my cars lacked in class and expense, they have made up for in number and diversity. I’ve flirted with physical activity as much as with cars, having morphed through Aikidoboxing, running and kickboxing.

I blame both cars and a preoccupation with exercise with a childhood spent mostly being nerdy and slim, and surrounded by the wheeling and dealing of cars. When my dad would come to pick my sister and I up from our mother’s house, he would hurtle us back to Nottingham in a variety of cars. I remember sitting in the passenger seat and my sister in the back as my dad drove faster. One of us asking to slow down, the other to go faster. And despite my dad’s career path veering dangerously close to being a professional footballer, my sporting prowess was certainly uncultivated (by me) as a child.

Aside from cars and fighting, in Austin where I joined a cult, met the woman I want to spend the rest of at least one of our lives with and had the good sense to marry her fast and young. Life was filled with elephants, giant ants, cavemen, Time Machines and many, many outfits. There was also much piracy in Town Lake as was. Also volcanoes, surfing and sneaking into apartment complex hot tubs.

I somehow became enamored with the American dream – getting a house (admittedly without running water for a long and smelly month), a gaggle of cars, vans and trucks, and even listening to everyone’s favorite fire-starter and foot sadist,  T. Rob. It was about that time that I got into working again, though I don’t recall it being particularly fulfilling for the most part.

After living in the suburbs and going slightly awry after leaving the aforementioned cult, we moved to a new neighborhood, I somehow became a Realtor. An accomplished one, it pains my modest self to admit. To this day, I expect someone to snap their fingers and pull me out of the trance which began with me passing a few real estate exams to sending people who live near me photos of my face and phone number. At least I still have my integrity – I never smiled with my teeth in the headshots, and I never wore a polo-shirt. A man has to have some scruples, though I suppose I have been strutting about stage like a confused chicken to an appreciative audience for five years now.

Notably in the new urbs,  I have begat, and my offspring are both number ones in their respective genders. The predictable onslaught of mini-vandom has been quite the emotional, financial, and decibel rollercoaster – the greatest ride of all. And, yes, I do find rollercoasters quite exciting – it’s just the emetic spinning rides that make me disoriented which I find so distasteful.

So that in a nutshell is what I’ve been up to for the last forty. I’m sure I’m supposed to say something profound right now, but it’s ten to midnight, which is way past my bedtimes these days. All I can think of is to say “stay tuned” or that I must make some profound proclamation about lessons learned or the future.

Did I learn anything? When drinking too much hurts too much, stop doing it, or take lots of vitamins and minerals.That and it’s really hard to remember things for very long if you don’t write them down. What’s coming next? Well there’s always living in a castle, seeing the Prodigy live, some turbos and living somewhere a little less stupidly hot one sunny day. And maybe some more writing so that I can remember what I do tomorrow in ten years time.

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