Category Archives: my life’s essentials

What makes my life bliss

My life’s essentials 14: Ilfracombe

Ticket to ride

This ticket started me on a journey 50 years ago on Saturday, 2 August 1969.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that train journey from Paddington to Ilfracombe, on the north coast of Devon, would bring me to the place where I would live 50 years later.

We had a marvellous fortnight’s family holiday, magical even, before returning home to resume everyday suburban life. That, it seemed, was it. But my family loved railways and I remember in my teen years daydreaming in school lessons about modelling the station at Ilfracombe. It seems the place had caught hold of me.

Now, I’ve always been a dreamer. Sometimes, when people ask me a straightforward question, if my mind isn’t in gear, I struggle to come up with an answer there and then, only working it out later on. However, deep down I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do – write, create and communicate – although back then I didn’t realise I would do this with computers and the internet. 

What has started me thinking about my journey, in terms of my home, my work and who I am, is finding this ticket from all those years ago. I didn’t think I had mapped my future out, but, looking back, I took definite steps to get here. I started out in the corporate world, but after 10 years realised I did not fit. I remember, when working at British Airways, I visited the North American Air Fares department about a job there, which would have been a big promotion. As the chap talked, I felt my eyes glaze over and realised how stifled I would be in that role. I didn’t apply, but he rang me up after applications had closed to see where mine was. The job would have been mine, but I could never have stood it. And that’s how my career progressed, from Cromwell Road, Earls Court to Heathrow Airport to the Aldwych in London, back to a soulless business park in Maidenhead and then, when I jumped off the corporate ladder, to our spare bedroom in Windsor. Here I established our communications partnership with my brother Simon.

15 years ago, when Mrs Z and I wanted to escape the Heathrow noise pollution and mindless rush of the South East, I suggested moving to Ilfracombe. I thought she would tell me not to be so stupid. She didn’t and we moved. As with the rest of my career, it wasn’t easy. The telephone exchange had only just been upgraded to ADSL and the small population restricted, as it does still, the size of market for many sectors, especially mine. But with the internet, I worked virtually for clients across the country, some of whom I never meet. 

Am I happy? Apart from reaching the age where I often feel melancholic because of all the dear souls no longer present, I am content. I’m now close to celebrating working for myself, at home for 25 years, am just about to complete my dissertation for my History MA, launched a business magazine this year, which is giving me the most fun ever, and am organising a business exhibition in October. All in the loveliest place I can think of living. 

In summer, I start the day early with a walk on Woolacombe Beach with our spaniel, while in winter the two of us brave the winds as we crawl round Capstone Hill in a storm in December darkness. Mrs Z is content and our spaniel arranges our life so that we exercise and relax every day. What more could we ask?

Some say that Ilfracombe and North Devon are 30 years behind everyone else. I see them being 30 years ahead, because here many people value time more, are closer to nature, which I interpret as life and death, are more generous with their help, and appreciate what we all have. I think many businesses have forgotten these values, but perhaps more people are slowly realising how important they are. 

I do not have as much monetary wealth as I might have had from staying in the corporate world in the South East, pursuing opportunities purely because they were lucrative, but I am doing what I always wanted to do. And I am doing them where I have wanted to be for 50 years since the date on that ticket: Ilfracombe.

Posted in a musing, history, Ilfracombe, my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 13: my lawn rake

Garden rake | My life's essentials | robzlog.co.uk | robertz

My trusty lawn rake must be 29 years old. My Dad gave it to me, I think, as a birthday present the year Mrs Z and I moved into our first house, which had a garden some 50 feet long by 11 feet wide.

To me, this was paradise. The house I was born in had a much bigger garden and some of my earliest memories are of gardening with my Dad: helping him mow the lawn or plant vegetables, especially radishes. He loved radishes and, by coincidence, so do I.

I retained my love of gardening, as a teenager and adult, and when we bought our first house, I was thrilled to have a tiny patch of lawn and some borders in which we grew 50 or different herbs.

The house we live in now has a much bigger garden space, although when we moved in, much of it was covered by plant-killing membrane, and rocks and stones. We took all these up to discover the soil was dead. I planted several lawns, hedges and trees. At first, our main lawn would get water-logged during a downpour, but over the years all the plants and trees have improved drainage to soak up the water and now we don’t even get puddles. It’s no surprise that there is so much flooding in towns these days, with people and councils chopping down trees, concreting or tarmacking over the soil, and covering it with decking. Only the other week, I saw someone move into a house and – even though it has a garage with another car space as well as unrestricted on-street parking out the front – tear down the garden wall, dig up the lawn and cover it with tarmac. I am against this from an environmental perspective.

Anyway, today I mowed our main lawn and clipped the edges with shears. When you get down close, you discover not just grass but moss, dandelions, daisies, clover and other plants. As you can guess, my lawn is not bowling green standard, but we don’t want it to be. We want a natural cushion where we can sit to enjoy warm dry weather. I never treat it with weedkiller or chemicals, so now we have worms busying themselves all over the garden and lots of insects buzzing around. If we could have more garden, I’d like a wildflower meadow.

And so, after cutting the grass, I gathered it up with the rake Dad gave me. It is somewhat battered now, but it’s still serviceable and I hope it will be for a few years more.

Garden rake | My life's essentials | robzlog.co.uk | robertz
Posted in my life's essentials, wild and gardens.

My life’s essentials 12: feet

feet | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

Yes, feet are essential and my feet are essential to me.

I walk a fair amount, usually between 15 and 22,000 steps a day, but I didn’t always.

When I was younger, I used to cycle a lot, but then stopped when I started work and got a car. For quite a few years I did little exercise, especially when I started working from home. I remember one wintry day in the 1990s when I opened the front door to go out to post a letter, but the wind almost blew me back in and I decided to go another day. As I started to use the internet and email more for work, sometimes I had little reason to go out for two or three days at a stretch. I was slowly putting on weight and starting to bulge a little.

Then, in 2000, we got a dog. A puppy. A spaniel. A little darling. I’ll write about him in another post.

One of the reasons for getting a dog was to get me on my feet and out of the house. Another reason was to have fun. We accomplished both.

From being a stay-at-home stick-in-the mud I turned into an all-weather-outdoor stick-in-the-mud, usually in the middle of a muddy field in the rain. I loved it and still do.

I walk in the dark, in the light, in the dry, the snow, the rain, in howling gales and on beautifully clear, calm days, paddling in the sea.

I play ball with our dog – now our third after losing our first two five years ago – and sometimes we both toddle along, letting our minds wander or admiring plants and trees, views or anything that takes our interest.

Walking is what I enjoy most now, thanks to my feet.

I have come to realise how essential they are after various conversations with many lovely people, some of them now passed on. When they told me stories of their past adventures of walking, touring and sailing, their feet could no longer carry them up a hill and sometimes we had to help them back on to their feet if they took a tumble. Their feet had served them well, but there comes a time for us all when we have walked as far as we can and we have to put our feet up once and for all.

So I make sure I look after my feet as well as I can because I realise how important they are to me. I walk as much as I can while I am fit because one day I will walk no more and then I’ll tell stories of where my feet have taken me.

• I mistakenly posted My life’s essentials 14 after 11, so I’m catching up with this post.

Posted in my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 14: Canon PowerShot SX500 IS

Canon PowerShot SX500 IS | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

I have always enjoyed photography, although for much of my life did not spend much time on it. Moving to live by the sea and walking with our dogs have given me plenty of opportunities to take more photos. Five years ago, after we lost our dear two spaniels and there was a lot of family illness and pressure around us, we welcomed a new puppy into our home. My old digital camera had just packed up and I replaced it with a Canon PowerShot SX500 IS bridge camera. We had other important spending priorities at the time and this was yet one more thing added to the list, but we thought it important to capture the memories of the early days and weeks of our seven-week-old puppy.

Sprocker spaniel | robzog.co.uk @robertz

Almost five years later, after much battering by wind and rain, being gummed up with sand on the beach, and accompanying me all over the place, I am so attached to this rugged little camera. I have a digital SLR with a selection of lenses, but that takes planning to carry with me for a photoshoot. The little Canon fits in my pocket, a bag or in the car glove compartment, and has taken thousands of photos, from sunrises and sunsets to family and our dog. It has been repaired once, but I’m astounded it keeps going, especially after going on the beach so much. Sand gets everywhere and the inside of my car looks like I am building my own beach resort.

As well as having a 30X zoom and shooting at 16 mega pixels, the facility to manually set shutter speed, aperture value and ISO speed has enabled me to experiment more than ever with photography, which I throughly enjoy. While I take photos with my dSLR and iPhone, I usually have this little camera at my side too. I’ll be sorry when it stops taking photos because it has given me the ability to take photos that I would have otherwise missed.

I enjoy sharing photos on social media as well as seeing other people’s photos. If you want to connect, please follow me on:

 

Posted in my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 11: reading

As a child, there was always something to read in our house: the Radio Times, books, newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, comics.

While we listened to the radio and records, watched television and played with toys and in the garden, sometimes the house would be silent as we would all have our noses in books or magazines.

It seemed natural and I assumed everyone everywhere consumed books ravenously.

While I started out with children’s books, including the one below and the Rev. W Awdry’s railway books, I soon preferred books written for grown-ups and was reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, simply because they were there on the shelves.

Through school and university my tastes developed to include epic literature, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, on which the television series Monkey was based. I grew to love the novels of RS Surtees, especially Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour, along with the works of Tobias Smollett, Jerome K Jerome and Saki. From science fiction to Dorothy L Sayers, from Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm stories to histories of the SAS, Queen Elizabeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Stalingrad and William Marshall, I’ve read about human endeavour, adventure, war, science, sex, drink and drugs, comedy, loneliness, loyalty and betrayal, kindness and cruelty, love and hate, life and death, and enjoyed many ripping yarns along the way.

A Day at the Zoo | Robzlog | @robertz

One of the first books I read

Much of my business life has been spent writing, which requires a lot of reading for research, so in recent years I have read less for pleasure than I used to. Social media and the  dumbing down of news has also meant that, like everyone else, I am bombarded with sound bites and news reports that lose much of their meaning and context due to their brevity. I am very aware of this after starting my MA in History, which has required me to read books that I would not have chosen to read but have opened my eyes to the superficial level of my knowledge of some topics. It has reminded me that we need to think for ourselves and not accept readymade opinions created for convenience and, possibly, to further others’ agendas. Learning also requires effort, but, like exercise and other activities, can provide great satisfaction.

In an article in the July 2018 Oldie magazine, Sophia Waugh discusses how few boys read literature now. As a teacher, Waugh is concerned about how unpopular English, languages and arts subjects are with boys, describing how some boys sneak in to talk to her about reading because they don’t want their peers to find out. She adds that currently only 26% of teachers are male and just 15% of primary school teachers are men. Apart from appealing for more men to take up teaching, Sophia Waugh appeals to all men to act as role models: to talk to young people about what they’re reading, to carry a book with them when out and about or on public transport, and to demonstrate that reading is important for everyone. She says this will not only help boys and all young people, but teachers too.

This article made me think back to my own childhood. I was fortunate to have parents who read about pretty much anything and let my brothers and me read anything too. I was also lucky to have many teachers who fed my enthusiasm for reading. In fact, the university lecturers for my MA are still doing this and I am acquiring a stack of books I am itching to read.

Reading, for me, is essential. I hope I can help pass on this enthusiasm to younger generations.

What effect has reading had on your life? And what are you reading now?

Posted in my life's essentials.
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