Into Every Life

…there comes a little rain. And mine was the big ‘D’. BUT! Every cloud has a silver lining. Yes folks, at this stage of my life came the big ‘D’. Don’t know why, but do know when. She left me, but I kept the children (she got the big money for the house – courtesy of me of course,  but I got the very bigger deal – the children!). And so this eventually (a few years later, after – and I do mean AFTER) led to me (and all of my brood) moving out, joining up with my new brood (my second wife and her two offspring – same thing in reverse if you see what I mean) eventually moving in together into a lovely TINY 5-bedroom Herefordshire cottage in the middle of nowhere. What a place! We were bursting at the seams (well, to tell the truth, our oldest 3 had ‘fled the nest’ by then and ended up in the countries of their birth – England, Canada and America – before we, the remaining 5 of us, moved into this temporary accommodation. A beautiful cottage on the banks of the world-famous River Wye.

I expect the remaining children have mixed memories about this strange experience – I certainly do! (It was definitely a seminal experience for all of us, but this series of web logs is not about all of my personal experiences – it’s about my peripatetic lifestyle). Anyway, we – those of us still left in the ‘family home’ – ended up living right on the banks of the famous River Wye, with 3 dogs to boot (and a resident mouse). [BTW – By The Way – ‘to boot’ is an old English expression meaning ‘as well’, rather than any other more physical, violent interpretations you may have misunderstood). The dogs loved the outdoors – away from the madding crowd – just like me. And the mouse? Well we didn’t discover that until we moved out. It had been living under Helena’s bed all of the time we were there!

I thought I would finally (as I had before) settle down. But Judith hadn’t finished with me yet! Nor me with her.

Fish

The little brook that passed through our property had an amazing reputation: it had never dried up in living memory (or ever as far as local people knew). And so, yes of course, that was why ‘The Mill’ became a mill in the first place. In moments of contemplation, when my noisy, lively, happy children were away at school and I had one of my ‘quiet days’ I often wandered down to the brook to think about nothing. Not about anything in particular – just nothing. Just empty my mind of my everyday – well, everything actually – and just wander  around aimlessly for an hour or two. Try it! And you’ll be surprised what strange and wonderful ideas pop into you head when you do. (But don’t try it on purpose – otherwise all that will happen is that all of your thoughts about your everyday problems, challenges, etc. will come flooding back with a vengeance).

And so, on one of those quiet, contemplative days, after rising, feeding and transporting my growing brood off to their respective places of learning, I returned home and – without any pressing business engagements to occupy me for the rest of that day, I set off down to my lower field – and was immediately scuppered. Not only was the brook overflowing – the whole field was under water, to a depth that would have required me to wade in waist deep – or swim – if I was to have my ‘quiet contemplation’ that day. So how on earth did they do it? In the dry period during the summer, when there was barely one or two inches of water in the brook, I had witnessed fish of 6 or 7 inches long struggling to get downstream to the famous River Wye. Yet here I was right in the middle of their domain, and not a fish in sight!

And not only that, we were only located less than a mile downstream of the source of this little, mighty brook (which, by the way, passed right underneath one of my upstream neighbours living room). Nature is wonderful.

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Ireland

Ireland

I’ve visited Ireland many times over the years (and often thought about my forefathers – and mothers, courtesy of my maternal grandmother) who came from the Emerald Isle, and I will revisit this wonderful place again in a later tale (or two) in this series of web logs. It was an emotional trip to say the least (I don’t qualify as an Irishman, I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and am, therefore, a proud ‘Geordie’, but, just like you (and everyone else on this planet) my roots come from somewhere else (my personal research tells me that I am of Viking stock, but hey – they all came from somewhere else as well).

Anyway, on this particular occasion I was flying high as an internationally famous consultant (their words not mine) and invited by one of the biggest computer companies on the planet to speak at their annual international conference about the future of the business world and how computers, electronics, the internet and all the rest of modern technology would change the way we all work, etc. etc. And they would not only pay (an exaggerated amount) of my normal fees, they would also fly me over and put me up in the most expensive hotel in the capital (Dublin) for three days; even though I was only required to give two (of the same) presentations during the two main days of their 3-day business bash: a fantastic opportunity for yours truly. So what did I do? Declined of course.

But not in a silly way (I might be daft but I’m not stupid). I simply requested that, instead of flying me over and putting me up in the most expensive hotel in Dublin (in the whole of Ireland actually) for three days, instead they allow me to drive over with my wife and four children (via the ferry) and pay (the same) for us to spend a week touring, staying in cheaper ‘bed-and-breakfast’ places – whilst still being there on the two required days delivering my ‘state-of-the-art’ future-looking presentations.

We had the most wonderful time touring southern Ireland, welcomed with open arms by one and all – and all because I had the wife and (especially) young children with me. Hey (you fellow business guys) business trips can sometimes be relaxing and loads of fun too you know!

Fireworks

We were surrounded by lots of woodland and I did my bit in keeping it all fit and healthy, clearing away dead trees and broken branches in the autumn to help new growth flourish the following spring – much to the delight of my children. And why? Because, as far as they were concerned, we were ‘bonfiring’ (ie, collecting wood in preparation for our bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th (Google it). In those years we always ended up with the biggest and best bonfire in the whole area. ‘Gunpowder, fire and plot’ – we had the lot! It was hard work actually; as it involved visiting every bit of woodland on and surrounding our few acres and dragging out – often using the Landrover with a chain – all of the dead/fallen tree trunks and branches and piling them up into the shape of a ‘wigwam’ as far as the children were concerned – a North American ‘tepee’ is a more accurate description [the Yankees have a lot to answer for. You know the difference between a wigwam and a tepee don’t you? The former is a semi-permanent wooden structure and the latter is a temporary tent-like structure made of animal skins thrown over/around a circle of wooden poles with a point at the top, which can be taken down and re-erected as they moved around – an ancient version of the modern tent].

One year we really surpassed ourselves. We invited all of our neighbours (from an area of several square miles – no next door neighbours in that neck of the woods) –and  over 100 turned up on the night! My invite included the request that they bring a firework for the final display – but only one. ‘If you would like to contribute to the firework display, PLEASE DO NOT buy a box of small fireworks. Instead, please spend whatever sum you think fit on one – and only one – large firework to add to our display’. And so they did.

What a bonfire! What a fireworks display! What a barbeque (cooked by yours truly of course)! What a party! And the bonfire embers continued to glow for a whole week. My children are all around their 30s now and they still talk about it to this very day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       www.jimmybates.com

Double Dutch

I was running a small, specialised Management Consultancy out of Monmouth (in Wales) with a colleague and, as a company ‘perk’, we used to lease company cars for ourselves (a necessity actually – we used to travel the length and breadth of the UK on business in those days). But one trip took us all the way over to Holland (the Netherlands to give it its correct country name) to pick up new models one year. Up until then we had been using a well-known make of German cars, but this time we decided to go for something new – the latest model of a very-well known Italian make. Normally we would have just placed an order with our local dealer and waited for delivery, but this time – because demand was so great for this new model – it was suggested we go over there (with the dealer himself) and drive 3 of those hot new models back home ourselves. Sounded like fun! So, off we set early one morning.

The dealer, driven in his own car by a work colleague, picked up my business partner on the way then drove on to pick me up at my place in Hereford (in England, just on the border with Wales). At this point the driver switched on the Sat Nav (satellite navigation: a new-fangled device that had recently been introduced for private car drivers who couldn’t read road maps. Yes, I was a cynic about new, unnecessary technology in those days – still am, despite (or because of) my previous role as an R&D scientist in this area). Anyway, off we set on our journey to East Midlands airport, in order to fly over the North Sea to pick up, and drive back our new cars (via the ferry over the sea route of course). At this point you must understand that Hereford, despite being a city – the capital city of the county of Herefordshire– is actually only a (beautiful) little old ‘one-horse’ town in the middle of the countryside, with no major motorways (freeways) running north/south or east/west. And did the Sat Nav system not like that! ‘Stop the vehicle! Turn around! Do a U-turn! I had directed the driver eastwards, on the perfectly acceptable British ‘A’ road out of the county to eventually pick up the nearest available motorway to take us to the airport (if we had followed the Sat Nav instructions, it would have taken us 20 miles back in the opposite direction, effectively adding 40 miles – and the best part of an hour to our journey – and we would probably have missed our flight). But the Sat Nav system was having none of it, and kept up this repetitive, annoying drone for the next 20 miles (the driver, driving his boss and two ‘VIPs’ didn’t dare turn it off), despite my repeated assurances and requests for him to do so. All became quiet, eventually, when we did reach the motorway system. (Thank goodness for modern Sat Nav systems, which automatically reprogramme themselves when the original route is ignored or diverted from).

We got there in the end, in plenty of time, and had a wonderful day in Eindhoven, before a very pleasant, relaxing drive home afterwards.

www.jimmybates.com

Giant Balloons in Belgium

My next consultancy assignment took me back over to America and then, subsequently, onto Belgium. I won a contract to provide advice to the largest chemical company in the UK (at the time), which manufactured (amongst other things), plastics and paints, with manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Belgium (amongst other places). The first part of my assignment was to review their recent attempt at modernising their internal computer communications system, which was used primarily to speed up and provide more efficient and effective exchange and sharing of research results between their research scientists. The problem they had was that their resulting solution didn’t speed up anything at all! And the staff were definitely not happy chappies (or lassies).

And the mistake they had made? Well, it was staring them right in the face actually: all of their offices and research labs were plastered with posters extolling the ‘benefits’ of their newly designed electronic mail system. But they didn’t need an electronic mail system! (Well, they did, but not to be used in the way they were trying to use it). So what did they really need? A Web Logging system of course! (web log/ blogging system to share their research findings with each other). These guys and gals were spending an inordinate amount of time personally exchanging individual emails to various colleagues to personally solicit – rather than group elicit – their individual research findings before finally producing their official results for new/improved product designs. They were emailing their results instead of posting blogs for all interested parties to read and comment on.

To cut a long story short, having solved that problem, I was then sent over to their US operation to repeat the advice (why couldn’t they just tell their American colleagues themselves? But I wasn’t going to argue – money is money, and a consultancy fee is a consultancy fee).

And then what did they do? Sent me off to visit their Belgium operation – to observe how they made their very thin sheets of plastic polymer by using a technique which produced giant inflated balloons (as big as hot-air balloons) in their Belgium factory. Very interesting, but totally irrelevant as far as my original consultancy assignment was concerned. (I tried to diplomatically tell them this but, well, expensive hospitality seemed to be ingrained in their corporate culture – thanks for the US and Belgium trips anyway guys).

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Dogs

Living in the countryside, of course, involved sharing our lives with animals – not least our two Golden Labrador Retrievers (mother and daughter). The mother dog was a real pain in the neck, constantly howling and whining for attention at all hours of the day (especially first thing in the morning – starting at dawn – so no lie-ins for us there then). The daughter dog (‘Harry’ – short for Harriet) was the complete opposite: quiet, obedient – and fiercely loyal and defensive towards the children. Woe betide any strangers who raised their voices, or even came onto our land unannounced!

The dogs had pretty much free rein around our buildings and over our five or so acres of our land, which was well delineated by sturdy fences. But not so one of our farming neighbours who, apart from other things, kept sheep. Now my dogs were not sheep dogs and, until one fateful day, were not sheep-worriers either. As long as the sheep, or any other large animals – or uninvited strangers – kept off our land, X and Harry had no problems with them. But woe betide any who did, especially if they upset the children. And so one day the inevitable happened. Due to our neighbouring farmer’s lackadaisical attitude to maintaining his own fencing, a couple of his sheep wandered onto our land and paid the ultimate consequences.

Harry was a relatively young pup and still easily led by her more temperamental mother. And her mother was definitely the main culprit in the bloody, sordid outcome of the sheep’s misguided trespass. I found their dead bodies shortly afterwards – along with the mother dog’s bloody mouth. I immediately informed my neighbour of the sad news, and berated him for his lack of attention to his border fencing. And when he didn’t even bother to turn up to remove their carcasses, I then buried them (five feet deep) covered with corrugated iron sheeting immediately over the carcasses. But the dogs (the mother being the main culprit again) still managed to dig them up and tried to have another go at them.

Enough was enough. Without telling the children, I immediately took the mother dog to the vets (veterinary surgeon) to have her put down (‘sheep-worriers’ have no place living in the countryside). Harry settled down after that and became the most fantastic, placid, brave, loyal and caring countryside dog anyone could ever wish to have.

www.jimmybates.com