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2014

Sitting down in our local Tap House me and my fiancée were enjoying The Mills Winter Ale. The background, a buzzing atmosphere as many chatted away. It wasn’t long before we asked each other the standard New Years Eve question.

Now before I go into it, I must add that this was the first time since we’ve been together that neither of us were struck down with a cold and we were away from our house on New Years Eve.

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The question?…. “What are my highlights of 2014”

Immediately I dismissed it as a pretty standard year, 2014 appeared quiet and a lot calmer to that of previous years. It wasn’t until I thought a little harder about the question that it became apparent that 2014 has had its fair share of positives and some sad chapters as well.

In a year that saw a fantastic family wedding, an intimate In The Woods festival, camping trips and glamping in York, a birthday weekend away in Canterbury and many disappointing sporting woes from my beloved Leeds United it was hard to really answer this question with so much going on.

For those of you who have followed my blog since I started it in 2013, I’m hopeful that you’ve started to paint a picture of me and my life. I will always share what I feel comfortable with sharing and it’s because of this I feel that my followers understand how valuable I rate life. I will therefore answer this question honestly.

One of my main highlights of 2014 involved me and my fiancée moving into our first house together in February. I initially moved in with Lisa when I left Stratford and despite having a lovely place together then we made a decision to get a bigger place with our own garden. We have certainly benefitted from this and have spent most of the sunny days out in the garden cooking BBQs, growing plants and encouraging wildlife in to enjoy it with us. We have done many jobs to make this house our own and have just agreed an additional 2 year extension to our contract which is fantastic news.

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The bird feeder was one of my Christmas Pressies and despite the return of our resident scatty Wood Pigeon, it’s clear he isn’t afraid of heights and is giving it a go. Unfortunately he is just a bit too big to use the feeders. The scattered seed on the grass from other birds is his reward.

On a professional level 2014 saw me secure the biggest promotion to date in my working career. I became a Branch Manager in August and have been responsible in ensuring the Branch has finished the year in an excellent position. I work for a Builders Merchants and 2014 has seen the Banbury depot succeed at its highest level in recent history. Five months into my new job and I am fully aware of the numerous challenges that await, however it’s important at times like these to enjoy the successes and ensure I benefit from the welcome festive break. Time to recharge these batteries!

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With my new job I enjoyed my first Managers Christmas party and was very fortunate to be treated to a weekend around Cheltenham Races. It gave me the perfect excuse to get smartened up in a year that saw my fiancée improve my style and construct a far more fashionable wardrobe for me!

It is from this that 2014 sadly saw the passing away of one of my biggest influences in my professional career. In 2000 I started working in the Building Industry for a company called Underground Supplies. I was interviewed by the MD, a gentleman by the name of Andrew Bygate. I recall the meeting I had with the Recruitment Agency prior to this interview as if it only happened yesterday.

The lady at the Recruitment Agency advised me that Andrew was a positive man who admired forward thinking and driven individuals. I arrived with this in mind and following the interview Andrew simply said to me that he would be back in touch via the agency to let me know if I was successful. It was at this point I simply asked Andrew for the job. He looked at me, slightly perplexed by my forward nature before smiling and simply saying “ok then, the job is yours, well done”.

This was the start of nearly a decade working with Andy (Andrew was far too formal, once I started working for him!) Andy was diagnosed with a Brain Tumour in 2006 and undertook the biggest fight and challenge in his personal life. Andy fought hard and carried this on throughout 2014. Unfortunately Andy lost this battle in late 2014 but fought so bravely and inspired many people who crossed paths with him, this included me. Thank you Andy for inspiring me to succeed and play a major part in where I find myself today.

2014 saw one of my biggest personal challenges and one that me and Lisa were able to complete together. We had more than a few personal battles to overcome but on a bright dry day in Wales, we climbed and descended Mount Snowdon. If ever there was a challenge and one that needed team work of the highest order then this was it. Towards the end of the decent my legs packed in and I needed some heat pads and assisted stretches to keep me intact until the end. The important thing is we got through it and loved the breathtaking views and experience we shared together.

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So as we head into 2015 another book starts, one thing which is pretty certain is that we will be asking ourselves this same question again on future New Years Eves.

All I can say is I hope my readers and followers can take a moment to reflect and look back on 2014. It’s always nice when you can recall some stand out memories. Have a great 2015 and I look forward to sharing some more moments with you as I head into a big year!

Mark

A time to reflect on the positives

Firstly as I write this blog I’m Suffering from the latest cold that is going around. It’s been a few days now but the positive thing is that I’m still alive but not so kicking, however as I sit up in bed trying to rid myself of the suffering it certainly gives you time to reflect.

Somebody once told me that we spend only a short amount of time on planet earth as it is. Because of this, it’s equally important to remember that when you are not feeling your best, that you must still be grateful to be here on earth. It’s so very very true, as I grab another man sized balm tissue and drink my umpteenth Lemsip all I’m thinking about are the positives.

It’s been just over a week since I last wrote on here. Most of my last posts had been Leeds United related, this time around I’d like to bring it back round to me and what has been going on in my life.

After a month of upheaval which included painting, decorating, tipping, diying, car transporting, selling furniture and using a carpet cleaner for the first time we’ve finally moved house. We made the decision a couple of months ago which now allows us to lead a more grown up lifestyle. We now have a garage and our own garden which is pretty freaking awesome. It has been certainly worth it as we now find ourselves unpacking the last few boxes.

I may not be the most naturally DIY skilled person but my efforts in putting up our wooden blinds have given me a sense of pride. Despite my requirement of taking good care when opening and closing them, they are still very much in place……. still!

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It’s easy to let the negatives take over your life. In a week which has seen my car require some bodywork repairs to breaking down halfway off the drive, you must try and draw those crumbs of comforts from the places they hide. My car problems have helped me bond more with our new neighbors (who helped me jump start it) in the rain, as well as allowed me to have one of the best conversations I’ve had with my fiancées Dad.

The blessings are when you realise it could have been so much worse. The indications suggested a leaky Power Steering hose and faulty Pump which would’ve cost over £800 to repair. The diagnosis discovered it was a faulty Alternator which is far less, life can be good like that.

Finally as I sign off from this blog I’d like to mention the Winter Olympics. They have been truly fascinating to watch. It’s evident to see that Team GB have continued on from where London 2012 signed off. Already assured of equalling our highest medal tally of 4 is an amazingly proud achievement. Let’s hope our Curlers and Speed Skaters get what they truly deserve this week. Life is certainly full of positives….. (as I grab yet another tissue)

DarcyB

Party Perfection

This weekend has been a truly wonderful opportunity to share time with family and our closest friends. Since our Engagement in August whilst away on holiday in Cornwall, we have been blessed by the amazing people we share our lives with. We set a date for our Engagement Party soon after the proposal in Cornwall which was this Saturday.

It’s safe to say that time sneaks past us when we are least observant and it was exactly the same in this instance. We are both extremely busy with our jobs and since my relocation to Bedford it’s certainly made the time spent at home during the week shrink. It is at this moment I’d like to place on record in writing on my little blog a massive, sorry I mean a MASSIVE thank you to my wonderful fiancé for working her socks off in preparation and launching this fantastic party of celebration.

Now I’m a typical guy, not in the sense of being lazy and unaware of the urgency of certain situations, but in a more traditional sense. I mean I’m always there to wash up after dinner and in the rare instances I’m back before dusk, I’ll get some dinner on to help share the responsibility. I’m talking about the inability to gauge time and understand the order and detail required to make things go smoothly and without any trouble. It’s because of my fiancé, I must go on record again to thank her for undertaking all of these things on top of her workload which borders on excessive most days of the week. It is because of this tireless effort and commitment our party was the success it was.

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The weather was on our side and despite a worrying blanket of thick grey cloud in the early afternoon we were treated to a pleasant warm sunny day. We opted for an open house format of party, which in its name gave a simple and non time constrained day. The beauty with this is you are able to control the flow and keep a steady number of people with you throughout the day. This is great in theory, but as we are pretty awesome* people, the number actually increased as the day went on! 😉

* Self proclaimed by me.

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All the detail was beautiful, from the disposable cameras right through to the decorations we had acquired from random events during our busy year. The carefully selected play list of party tracks and songs right through to the ever filled food buffet.

We are looking forward to developing our cameras in the next couple of weeks and seeing what delightful moments have being captured. If it’s like past events, I’m sure there will be the usual one of me looking slightly perplexed and bemused by the situation.

A party is only as good as the people who attend them and it is because of this that I’d like to thank every single one of you. In fact as I write this blog in my speak I should say we both want to thank you for joining us. There were some amazing scenes of our families meeting each other for the first time and the opportunity for our friends to meet each other too. Obviously there were those unable to join us but wished they could. We would also like to thank you for being thoughtful and supportive with your kind wishes, we will be seeing you all very soon.

So what did I learn from co hosting a party on the day? Well I learnt that frozen mini pizzas do not take 15 mins at 180c (Waitrose we will be in touch!) and while Salad is healthy, people prefer couscous instead. I’ve also learnt that it pays dividends to have an Xbox 360 and a wireless network. The children aged between 2 and 14 were more than preoccupied with this and I couldn’t have been prouder with the fact there were no tears all day. I learnt that Pacman is still cool and that despite no one actually playing Scrabble, that there were one or two of the children inquisitively asking about playing the game! I’ve also discovered that our Bathroom now has it’s own fan club!

So once again I’d like to thank you all, you made our special day well and truly special. It was an absolute pleasure to invite you into our home. Oh and before I conclude this blog, I’d like to also thank a couple of people.

Firstly I’d like to thank Amanda from All Seasons Kitchen. The cake you made was an absolute treasure-trove of sweet chocolate delights. Everybody loved it and we were not surprised to be left with only a couple of slices at the end of the night. Please check out her web page to see what else she is able to create at:-
http://www.allseasonskitchen.co.uk

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And finally I’d like to thank our friends at Whittlebury Brewery for supplying us with a lovely 18 pint pack of Old Tun. My fiancée certainly knows how to spoil me and it was because of the quick delivery of this that we were able to enjoy it. Very reasonably priced we finished it off within a day and it went down a storm. We have both been invited to visit their brewery which is something we will be accepting. Once again, please check out their site, it’s a great place to see what they do at:- http://www.whittleburybrewery.com

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The frustrations of not being able to get Glastonbury Tickets this morning have well and truly evaporated due to all of you that made this so very amazing!

DarcyB

Chapter 1 – Realisation

Last month I mentioned about a Book that I had started to write about my travels and year spent in Australia. I started this back in 2010 and it is very much work in progress. I’d like to share the First Chapter with you all today and am equally keen to hear back from you regarding it. Who knows if I get enough positive feedback then I may carry on and complete what I’ve started! Right here goes….

DarcyB

 

Realisation

I lay there, it had been a strange night, a cocktail of mixed emotions. The night previous to this I was there with my close friends celebrating my exciting holiday, this morning I just couldn’t move. Last year I had endured what could only be described as the year of hell, well probably not that bad but as the year played out it certainly was eventful but mainly for the wrong reasons. I experienced many things, asked my girlfriend of 3 years to move in and then watch her move out, allow my work to take over my life which probably led to the previous thing and then move out back into my mother’s home. I really had no idea what was to follow but subconsciously I had to ask myself why I had done these things, there must have been a part of me that had already realised that I was not returning home.

The alarm sounded and as I looked across with surprisingly focussed eyes I could make out the red figures on my side clock. It was that day, that time, it seemed so distant when I booked this flight but the time had arrived. I sat up for what felt like an eternity and found it hard to muster the energy to get out of bed, this was not due to the fact I was tired, in fact that was far from the real reason, I just didn’t want to step one foot outside of the warm duvet. It was winter in the UK and the country was enduring one of those normal winter periods. I worked in the Building Industry and following a year of rain, floods and snow it really did challenge the company I worked for. As the months passed by and the year was drawing to a close it hadn’t recovered and the fact I knew I was ready to escape from it all was a welcome reminder of why this was the most exciting day of my life so far.

Flash back to a couple of weeks previous, my family obviously upset that I would not be spending Christmas with them had made their arrangements for me to at least experience some of the festivities ahead of my departure to the other side of the world. I was at my Dads with his new wife and my step sister sitting down sipping a hot caffeine filled mug of coffee. As my cold hands clasped the warm mug we sat and discussed what I was hoping to do once I crossed the globe and touched the land in Adelaide. I really had no idea, my mind went blank. I was fortunate to have had nearly every book, travel guide or article on life in Australia presented to me by my Dad, he was very keen to ensure that I knew what to expect and to make sure I experienced everything that was potentially on offer to me. My Dad was a planner and to be totally honest this was just what I needed, without even realising to myself right then just by the things we spoke about part of me had given in to the fact that this was probably going to be more than a holiday. I had a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Australia, this was the most reputable guide I had heard about and one that formed part of the small library of literature I had accrued to date. It was this book that painted the most striking picture and one that that to this very day sticks firmly in my mind, not that I would know that at this exact moment. As dinner time approached and the most delightful roast dinner with an array of steamed and roasted vegetables was presented in front of me the conversation went less direct. I sat there and soaked up the moment, time seemed to pass at an almost standstill and everything in front of me slowed right down. If ever there was a more crystallizing moment than this, then I had yet to witness it as of yet.

Returning to the present moment, as thoughts passed through my mind from previous occurrences I was out of bed. It was an almighty effort, but following what seemed like the longest stretch possible without damaging my back I was up and ready to finalise all the packing that I had left to the very last minute. I was never really a planner, one trait that my Dad had failed to pass onto me, but I always had the ability to complete tasks with the smallest amount of time remaining. The shower felt great and refreshing and quickly changed I launched myself into it, what on earth would I need? I wheeled out the biggest red suitcase, the one that had served me well from the Majorca holiday of almost ten years ago. I had not used it since that eventful trip with my best friend James and I had to rip off all the airport tags and stickers that dressed it, so that I would at least stand a good chance of my luggage arriving in the same country as me worst case scenario. I am a typical bloke when it comes to working out exactly what I require; I think the maths in my head went something along the lines of… 4½ weeks = 31 days, worst case I can use x 3 times etc. etc… Anyway let’s just say for somebody who started his career as an estimator I really had left myself short!

I am convinced as most guys are, that mothers know of this fault and as I finished my breakfast I was almost certain that my suitcase seemed heavier than when I had left it just 20 minutes previous. The main thing was that I was packed, not ready but packed. I don’t think I could ever really be ready. I was certain not to spend the day pottering around the house in anticipation for my Dad to collect and drive me to Heathrow in London, so I made the most of things and my two best mates kept me company that afternoon. It was real commitment from them both especially as they had booked the day off to do so but at the same time I felt like it should have been the three of us going to endure the biggest adventure of our lives together. At the beginning of 2007 when I had decided I was going to Australia, we all had an agreement albeit verbal that if nothing major changed in our lives regarding jobs or security that this was going to be our holiday, unfortunately I was the only one to proceed with booking the flight. I could tell by James and Mikes reactions that they wished they could join me, but just been near them on this day albeit temporarily, took my mind off the day’s flying that lay ahead of me that evening. It was a nice feeling being able to spend with my two best friends, however as time was passing slowly, it meant I could not help but constantly think about that flight. I had only ever flown a couple of times that I can recall, once to Majorca as mentioned previously and the other time was to Munich to watch my beloved Leeds United play in the Champions League. These were both relatively short in comparison to what lay waiting for me. As the afternoon passed the time finally arrived, my phone in my pocket started ringing and without even having to look at the screen I knew who and why they were calling. Without too much hesitation I answered the phone, grabbed my luggage and said goodbye to my Mum and friends.

 

To be continued?

 

What would you choose?

Imagine a world where choosing what you do is restricted. Lets say in a lifetime you were limited and could only do a certain number of things. For the sake of this scenario and to make it more interesting this wouldn’t include the decisions you make in your working life nor the things we do by habit i.e sleeping and eating. I am talking about the things that make our life pleasant and enjoyable, the life changing choices that give our life meaning and direction. So picture this, what if the system had crashed and you were told you had to make your choices. There are half a dozen choices and decisions remaining. These could be taken at any time during your life, but they would need to be specific. Some hard decisions and choices to be made one would say, I’d think that was a slight understatement.

So what would I choose if placed in this fictional and totally unlikely situation? Here goes…….

1. Get Married – I’m very lucky that I’m engaged to the person I know was meant for me. You could say this makes this decision easier, however Marriage is something I strongly believe in and one of the choices I’d choose.

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2. Live In Australia – It’s an amazing country and somewhere I’m very lucky to have spent 2008 living in. This is certainly a choice I’d happily make and once the right point arrived in my life I’d be on that plane ready.

3. Arrange that Dinner Party – I’ve always wanted to have a dinner party with people who are famous and be in a situation where I could just chill with them over dinner. They would have to be alive (no time travel) and I’d choose Derren Brown, Jimmy Carr, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry. Hilarious banter awaits!

4. Space Travel – it’s something I’d love to do and it fascinates me. I’d love to be in a spaceship and see our planet from space. I’m not talking about living on Mars but having the chance to travel into space would be worth using one of my choices up for.

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5. Experience Glastonbury – One festival I’m desperate to say I’ve done and to experience its magical atmosphere. Sadly the way in which you can apply and purchase tickets for this festival will never improve so because of this I’m using one of my valuable choices to ensure it happens.

And finally……

6. Start a Family – Family is so very important to me and even though this is a strange scenario to be in, I’d feel guilty for depriving others from having the same choices. I’m a family person and because of this I’d be so determined to start another generation of my family. I’d love to experience a family unit and because of this, that would be my final choice.

Wow, that was actually quite enlightening and certainly puts the fact that we have every opportunity to live our lives the way we want into perspective. I’m certainly going to continue enjoying what I do and make the most of every day I have. You never know when the system may crash one day!

PS – I’m totally aware that this has many flaws in it and my hopes of becoming a film writer have finally been written off!

DarcyB

Life’s amazing

This weekend has been a very special one. It will be one that stays in my mind for an extremely long time and as I find myself sat back at home following it, I am smiling on the inside.

Whilst I was away in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago, I asked my partner to marry me. It was one of those moments that is extremely nerving and if any guy tells you otherwise they are either lying or have never been in that situation.

We spent this weekend back in my home town after finally revealing to the Facebook world that we are Engaged. We enjoy tradition and wanted to at least tell all of our family in person or on the telephone before splashing the news over Social Media. The weekend comprised of a lovely evening and BBQ at my sister and her partners with my family, before spending this afternoon catching up with my old school and college friends. If there is one thing I’ve learnt from this weekends antics, it’s that I’m not coming out of retirement and taking up playing football again! Oh and another thing, Mohitos are extremely addictive (thanks Luke!)

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On Sunday we went to Stratford Butterfly Farm which is a truly magical and amazing place. It was fairly overcast and chilly before we went inside, however by the time we’d left it had certainly warmed up. There were a huge variety of Butterflies that had lost all interest in landing on my grey T-shirt, however there were many situations where they intentionally moved just as I was taking their photo. I am almost certain they knew what they were doing. This place also homes snakes, scorpions, spiders and quails. The latter were out and about roaming with the butterflies, the others fortunately not. I can confirm that at one point the place felt like a Disney Film with colorful Butterflies filling the skies and fluttering around our faces.

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If this wasn’t enough, I’ve been clinging onto the number 33 with both hands clenched firmly around them. It was also a Birthday celebration for me and a rare year where my birthday didn’t fall on the Summer Bank Holiday. Tomorrow (or Tuesday, depending when you read this) I turn 34 and have been so grateful for all the surprises and gifts I’ve received so far. All I can say is that I am truly blessed and am very very fortunate to have the life I do. The sad thing is I’m back at work tomorrow where I’m pretty certain I will be buying cakes for my work colleagues. This is one tradition that I have no idea how and why it exists!? If anybody knows then please feel free to enlighten me.

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Finally I harvested some vegetables from our garden tonight. It was a pleasant reward for all of the hard work and effort put into watering and feeding our raised beds. I pulled up two beetroots the size of tennis balls and foraged around and found some potatoes and onions. I will be pickling these Beetroots tomorrow night and will let you all know how they turn out. I am half tempted to buy a cutter that gives them that crinkled crisp effect. Fingers crossed I can actually do it right. This follows on nicely from my blog about Self Sufficiency earlier this month. I think there may be a weeks worth of Beetroot in our household, wow!

Yes for those wondering, it’s me in the photo with my hands on my head. That kinda gives away my footballing decision. 😉

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DarcyB