Travel Plans

I recently uploaded the above picture to Instagram, as a view to everywhere I’ve been in 2011. Whilst I’m sure some may find that impressive, for me, I don’t think it really is. I’ve always loved travelling, such as the old saying goes “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” and I love journeys. You’re able to see so much, places, people, iconic buildings, beautiful scenery, it’s all there to go and see!

In the past 3 years, I’ve been more places than I could have possibly imagined. If I were able to show on a map, I would, but quite frankly, that’s a lot of effort given that the above image would generated automatically by iPhoto… haha.

My plan for 2012 is to see as many new places as possible. My brother and I have already started planning our next european road trip, heading straight for Berlin and moving east from there, so I’m hoping to be able to cover some good ground in that week! On top of that, Charleigh and I are also planning another trip in to Europe, I believe she wants to go back to the Eiffel tower again, but I’m keen to not just cover the same ground as this year. I want to make sure we see something new!

I also have a the prospect of heading out to the states again this year, at the moment it’s not been confirmed, so I won’t divulge any details, but if that’s goes ahead, I’ll be seeing even more sights!!

Stress

I am by no means aiming to write a comparative post, this is not about some situations being more stressful than others, I just feel it would be worth me writing this down.

I’ve written several times in the past about stress, how I deal with it, how I overcome it, but I’ve never really just written down the facts of what I find stressful or what might be causing me problems… Generally I think I appear very level headed with most problems, but I think at times that can be my downfall. Usually when problems arise, they are small and each individually is not that much of an issue, but as they start to build up they definitely get the better of me.

The facts:

  • I have a “maxed out” credit card which an APR so high, I only ever seem to be repaying the same amount and the debt goes nowhere
  • I have a huge overdraft, which I pretty much live in
  • I have an extremely stressful job, managing the online retail efforts of 8 large retailers, including helping colleagues with other issues, sometimes working past midnight
  • Christmas is the busiest time for retailers, as such I’m working 11 hour days, just to get my regular work done
  • I’m trying to save up money for a deposit on a house
  • I’m trying to raise my credit score so that I can get said deposit

All of these things gradually build up… I’m sure there are a lot more I’ve missed off here, mainly because I’ve attempted to ignore said fact.

I try my best with the situation I have and OK, maybe it’s not as bad as your situation, or maybe mine could be worse… But there comes a point at which I just think, fuck it. Fuck loans, fuck work, fuck cars, houses, fuck it all. Surely I’d be better off living in a yurt somewhere in the Cotswolds?

I just refuse to give up.

My misguided approach to blogging

My name is Sam Clarke and I’m a half arsed blogger.

For years, I’ve actively been writing, whether it be on a blog or simply for myself, I’ve always done it.. But something I’ve struggled with recently is sitting down and actually finishing something I started writing! I used to have a lot of time alone, I’d finish work and just sit online, writing, reading etc. Since moving in with Charleigh, we now spend that time doing other things (I’m by no means saying I’d rather be on my own), it’s just that, during the day I simply don’t have time available to blog or write as much as I used to!

Below are the last 3 posts that I started writing, but never finished. Maybe my next attempt will prevail!

A quick drive

Frequently, Charleigh and I will go out for a quick drive for something to do… More often than not we end up about 100 miles away, or up in Worcester. It’s great to get out of London and I really enjoy spending time in the car with Charleigh. We seem to sit in a silence, which is not at all awkward.

This weekend was no exception. Nina wanted to look after Ellie for the weekend, so we made plans to head out of London for the day, maybe do some shopping and get some lunch!

Time Management

Last week, Charleigh and I had a long conversation about the different methods of time management, ranging from personal time to work time. Essentially what we were working on was an ideal way in which we could impart good life skills and practices on to Ellie without it seeming like that was our aim. We eventually came to a conclusion which we’ve started putting in to practise this week and seems to be working fairly well so far!

The long time we spent talking about different ways to approach this, led to me think about how I manage my time, whether or not it’s the most effective method I could put in to practise and how I’d got to that conclusion in the first place!

To basically explain how I go about managing my work time, I thought I’d draw a little chart… Otherwise it could take me a lifetime to explain! haha.

Pseudologia Fantastica

What makes people lie?

I don’t agree that it’s a mental illness, I think that runs along the same lines as saying being overweight is an illness too… It’s not, stop eating… Also, stop lying. I say this, not because I have been affected by a pathological liar (Well, I have, but that’s irrelevant), I’m writing this because Charleigh has recently become the victim of a fictitious world in which a prospective colleague lived. The main story here isn’t something I particularly wanted to go in to detail on, I’ll leave that to Charleigh if she feels the need, I’m more interested in why people tend to create fictitious worlds in which to live.

Social Commerce

As you may or may not know, I work in ecommerce. As such there’s always a lot of discussion in the office about emerging markets and different ways through which people are able to purchase online. Typically these tend to be things like new markets, opportunities in other countries and even new ways of marketing your own website.

The most recent of the emerging markets has been mobile commerce, over the last 4/5 years, this has taken off incredibly well, which I think is something a lot of us saw coming. Companies made small changes to adapt to this, things like making their site responsive and adaptive to mobile browsers. Some even went to the extent of making their own apps to allow their customers to make purchases. Obviously, this wasn’t something that everyone could do, but for the largest of retailers was really effective. I really saw how this effected different retailers and even saw the downside to which some suffered when they were “Late to the party”.

The newest market which is being pushed upon both the consumer and the retailer in equal measure, is Social Commerce. This one, I must admit has me slightly baffled. Some companies have been working, even dominating this space for quite some time. Living Social and Groupon for example have been the two biggest companies to really get this market going. But I must admit, I’m slightly concerned that there’s a limit to which this market can be pushed.

Typically with advertising markets like this, it’s all about making sure the customer is able to find the product they’re after. Comparison shopping engines for example, are heavily based around product data. Typically I find companies seem to think it’s more about product price than anything, but that’s not strictly true. There’s a large element dedicated to the “Trust” of the retailer, along with prices and data that make these marketing campaigns more successful.

My concern with social commerce, is that the aim is for example, getting customers to recommend products to their friends or family through mediums such as Facebook or Twitter, but surely there’s a limit here? Take for instance one ficticous user who posts a link to a pair of shoes they really like on Facebook. There’s a part of me that says, OK so maybe this person is advertising this product for free, it’s essentially pushing products to people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen them. But the conversion rate must be extremely poor? Just because a friend likes something, or posts a link somewhere, it doesn’t really mean I’m going to go and buy that product?

Maybe shoes were a bad example, who’s to say that social commerce might work incredibly well for one product vertical, Electronics I would imagine would fair pretty well here, but home furnishings, garden accessories, surely not?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see how effective this may, or may not become. But I’m sceptical at best.

Is the rest of your meal adequate?

This weekend, Charleigh and I made our way up to Worcester. It’s becoming something we seem to more less frequently, but still - I relish the opportunity to get out of London, even if it’s just for 48 hours! We “landed” around 10pm Friday night after an arduous journey from the far side of the M25, right up to the top of the “eye-wateringly” boring M40. By that time I was pretty knackered, although, Charleigh has managed to bag herself an hour or so worth of sleep, which I guess was nice for her? haha.

On Saturday, we spent most of the day relaxing… Made our way in to Worcester town (Really, not all that much of a town if I’m honest) enjoyed a lovely hot chocolate and spent a bit of time doing some shopping. That evening we met my dad for a few drinks down ar the local watering hole before making our way to the middle of nowhere to let off a glorious collection of fireworks we’d collected earlier in the day. My brother and I spent collectively about £60 on the typical rockets, fountains etc… it was great fun!

Sunday again, was a relaxed day, but we had a bit more structure. My mum had invited us to lunch (Including my brother and his girlfriend) who, unfortunately couldn’t make it. Once we we all ready we headed out to a personal favourite among restaurants called “The Crown” at Hallow. Usually, I love this place (I use usually as a precursor to this statement in apprehension of the following statement.) the foods always been excellent, the staff are local, lovely and it’s not overly priced given it’s attempts to become a bit of a “Gastro” pub. (I use the term “Gastro” lightly, as typically this refers to Gastro-molecular dining, which this of course, is nowhere near).

On our last outing to The Crown I had a wonderful cut of steak, cooked perfectly with a generous helping of the typical sides. This however being Sunday roast, I thought I’d go for the usual roast. I went with beef as I’m not a massive pork fan and for some reason wasn’t really too keen on the chicken (Although Charleigh loved it!). Now, I’m all for “Gastro” style, minimalist meals, as long as there’s some give and take. But I’ve got to be honest, I was completely appalled with what I was presented. I wish I’d taken a picture, as I get the impression I’ll fail to describe the plate in it’s entire inadequacy, but I’ll give it a go!

-Three of the thinest, most rare slices of beef.
-Two roast potatoes
-One Yorkshire pudding
(and a small bowl of vegetables for the table to share)

Not only was there sod-all food, but what there was on my plate was poor at best. I picked my way through my meal slowly so as not to have finished before everyone else, but alas, it was to no avail. It took me about 4 minutes to clear my plate before anyone else had even finished a quarter of theirs!

I was livid, not only seconds after uttering that I’d be complaining, a mild mannered waitress approached our table. It was funny, just as she asked if everything was OK with our meals, she stopped and turned around as though to anticipate a pleasant response from us. I barely gave her the chance to completely turn around before laying out my problems with the dish. Typically I’m fairly mild mannered and this was no exception, I politely explained that my meal was essentially crap. Undercooked beef, barely any sides and to top that, it was late!

The manager soon after made her way over to our table enquiring as to my problem with the meal, to which she (Without apologising), offered to get me some more potatoes from the kitchen. I almost burst out laughing. By this point, the meal had essentially been ruined and I couldn’t have eaten more of it if I had wanted to! Off she popped, to come whizzing back moments later with the immortal phrase “Is the rest of your meal adequate?”. Adequate?! Yes, because when working in the hospitality trade, adequate is exactly what you’re aiming for!

To give them their credit, the restaurant did remove it from my bill, but that’s the least I would expect for such a dire lunch. I didn’t let this hinder my lunch though, we all still had a lovely time and it was nice to be able to relax and chat with my mum and brother as I so rarely do these days!

My Battle With Eczema

I’ve suffered with eczema since birth, I remember from a very young age visiting the doctors and various dermatologists as I was (As you can imagine) fairly self-concious about the way it made me look. Obviously my concerns with this affliction were not all based on my appearance, whilst that was a large factor (Not being able to wear black as it was my dry skin was clearly visible being a notable pain in the arse) there were other pains from this disease too.

My main pain with eczema is the constant discomfort and the way in which I have to treat my skin to ensure the condition doesn’t get any worse. I’m sure at lot of this can be attributed to hygiene, but as I’m sure anyone I know will tell you, I’m more than OCD about the way I treat things like the storage of my clothing, the skin sensitive (perfume free) moisturisers I religiously use even the types of clothes I wear (Typically high in cotton to ensure no rashes are caused).

I’ve spent years going from one type of moisturiser to the next, starting out with specifically medicated cortisone based creams (For those who don’t know, these really aren’t all that useful - the longer your exposure to these types of creams, the easier your skin can be affected by irritants). From those, I moved on to over the counter approaches, I’ve tried pretty much every type of skin-sensitive moisturiser there is - Eczema specific, down to any non-perfume based cream I can find that doesn’t cause my skin to feel like I’m bathing in a tub of hydrochloric acid!

After exhausting every option for a moisturiser (many years down the line), I went back to the experts. I was put forward for “Light Treatment” essentially controlled exposure to high doses of UV rays, which are intended to affect the sub-dermal (Lower) layers of skin. Unfortunately, this was never a success… In fact, it actually made my skin worse for a number of months, even after finishing the course.

Once I’d irradiated Light Treatment as an option, I then started looking at more basic approaches, I started off specifically with my diet.. I spent weeks researching which foods/drinks are known as irritants for the skin. Over a period of the next 12 months, I then began to cut one of these items out of my diet a week. I started out with foods stuffs with an high acidic content, from there I moved on to dairy products (all dairy products, chocolate, cheese… the lot!), until eventually I’d exhausted all those options too. I’ve even tried different styles of diet, I went vegetarian for some months in the hope that may have an effect… Nothing. From there my only other option was to try veganism, but I mean, really?

Following on from any failed attempt I’d already made to affect my eczema, I then moved down the avenue of medication… Sure, antihistamines can control the flare ups, reduce redness and swelling, but they don’t exactly control the main issues, such as the itchiness and the general appearance issues I’ve always had with the disease. Other than that, I’ve only ever really read about results from one drug, designed for acne, it was intended to affect hormone levels which would in my case, increase the natural “Greasiness” of my skin, but unfortunately my doctors refused to allow me to take it, on the grounds that there are some people with skin worse than mine.

I’m genuinely at a loss. After years of battling with my issues, I’ve pretty much run out of options to try. My only thought for moving on, would be to spend some time, not catering for my skin. Perhaps not moisturising every day would cause my skin to build up the natural elements it needs to remain in good condition? But I really couldn’t hack living for a couple of months with my skin in such a bad condition… I’d end up never going outside!

Proud isn’t the word

Yesterday marked a landmark for Charleigh, for her list of goals and for our planned future… It was her first day of work! This isn’t to say she hasn’t worked in the past, only that Ellie is now at an age where she can attend nursery, so Charleigh is able to bring home some bacon!

From what I understand, yesterday was more of an interview day than an actual first day of work… She pretty much spent time going through the usual rigmarole of finding out more about the job, meeting people, get her rota etc. But even after a day of all those kinds of things, Charleigh came home absolutely ecstatic with the way it went. I was pleased, I’d have hated for her first interaction in the working world to be horrible, but more importantly than all of this, she’s keen, she can’t wait to get working, get more involved with the business and meet new people. This is all working towards us moving to our house in April and this was definitely one of the biggest steps.

As I said before, I couldn’t be more proud of her, she really deserves all the “happyness” she gets!

TFL Rant

Every now and again I have a bit of a rant… It usually goes along with the premise that TFL couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.

It seems that their services get worse, more sporadic and busier every week, yet TFL do nothing about regulating the number of buses, let’s face it, it would be a win-win situation!

I apologise to the person with my elbow in their kidney, only, there’s not much room on here.

Data backup

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened… But I recently sold my Macbook Pro, before doing so I spent hours, working through all my music, videos and personal files to ensure that when I formatted the drive, I didn’t lose anything.

It wasn’t until some weeks after I sold my MBP that I realised I had not backed up iPhoto. Because of this, I unfortunately lost almost every picture I had taken over the last 4 years, including pictures from my trip to India, Skiing holidays and my travels through the east coast of the states. Needless to say, I was heartbroken.

I’ve sworn now, that not a single picture or video I ever take, will be lost to this stupidity. I’ve ordered a 2TB NAS drive, to which I will be linking all my computers and mobile devices, to ensure that nothing is ever lost again. I just couldn’t handle this happening once more.