Nothing ventured nothing gained…

With time being the ultimate commodity these days, who has time to meet their future partner?  To go on ten dates before deciding whether or not the other person is actually worth pursuing a relationship with. This is where I think the rise of online dating has seen such a growth over the last few years, as people become more time savvy.  I for one can vouch for this modern form of dating and here’s why.

I had been in New Zealand for just over two years and I was contemplating my time in the land I now called home and whether I should move back to where life had began.  The successful career I had left behind in the UK had taken somewhat of a nose dive and offers to revive it and start again up in the northern hemisphere were very tempting. At the same time as looking over career options, I thought I’d give dating in New Zealand one last ditch effort, taking the lead from a good friend by signing up to an online dating agency.

Now, even just a few years ago, the online dating trend wasn’t as common place as it is today and it felt somewhat of a taboo subject. There were those that deemed the best way to meet someone was in a bar, at work or heaven forbid, a friend of a friend of a friend.  Alas, I had tried these options before and after moving to New Zealand, alas none lead to the one (at least they ended up not being the one), so why not try something new.

It didn’t take long to compete my profile on FindSomeone and post it for all the single ladies of New Zealand to view. When compiling a profile, my best word of advise is to be yourself, don’t pretend to be something you’re not, in order to attract attention, as eventually you will have to meet someone in real life and you’ll be quickly found out. I filled out my profile with an emphasis on sarcasm and humour, my thinking being, that if someone was to like what they read, we would be off to a good start when we met up.

Within three days of signing up, I was sitting in a pub waiting to meet my first date, which was pretty good going I thought.  The lady I was meeting went by the name of Anj.  The section of my profile which had attracted Anj to getting in touch with me was the diet section, where I ticked the “Semi-Vegitarian” box. Anj was intrigued as to why I had ticked this box to which I simply replied “I appreciate both meat and veg equally” 🙂

That first date went extremely well, we talked and laughed as if we were life long friends catching up after not seeing each other for a while. It was something of a surprise when last orders were announced, as it seemed we had only been chatting a wee while, not for the five hours it had been. The date finished with a kiss goodbye and a feeling that I had met someone special. The next day a mate text me and asked how the date had been and I told her that if Carlsberg made first dates then it would be this one with Anj.

Later that same day, I text Anj to tell her that I didn’t want to freak her out but I really didn’t think there was a need to be on the dating website any longer as I had found my someone. Within minutes I had a reply, Anj was cancelling her account as well!

Two years later we were married and a further two years later our son came into the world.  I’m not saying everyone will be as lucky as Anj and I, but if you’re considering the online dating route to try and find the love of your life, give it a crack.

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It’s your choice…

For the first time in what seems like an eternity, my head is in a space where I can put some words down.  I’ve been wanting to write a personal piece for a few months now but I’ve been somewhat distracted by this little human that is now in my life.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be sitting on a sofa, rambling on about a dads life with a wife and son having their morning nap in the nursery, situated in New Zealand no less, I’d probably ask what you’ve been smoking or if I could get you another drink.  The life I’m living today is so far removed from that which i was living a decade is ago, its the stuff of fiction.

Back in 2004, I was a single project manager, travelling back and forth to Slovakia, running projects in the automotive industry.  Most nights in Slovakia were spent in the pub, well why wouldn’t you when a beer was only seventy pence, yep, you read that correctly…70p!  I considered myself a pretty decent project manager, delivering projects time and again above expectation, on time and within budget….mostly hungover.  It was definitely a lifestyle of working hard and playing hard, with most weekends consisting of at least one hangover.

This lifestyle not only affected me physically but also financially, which definitely impeded on me personally. It was this same year that it finally hit me that I was financially crippled. My wage would hit my bank account and the balance would just about creep out of my overdraft and slide back into it within a couple of days. Whilst at home one night, I decided to pull together all my debts and see exactly how much I owed.  With credit cards, bank loans, store cards and “interest free” accounts, I owed £32,100! Yep, it made me cry, I think for a good hour, I cried.

The stress levels went up a notch or two once I realised what state I was in and through embarrassment I didn’t want to tell anyone. I managed to get a debt consolidation company on board and it was the hardest few months of my life, what with work, studying for my degree and receiving phone calls from banks, credit card companies etc., demanding I pay what I owed.  What can you do but soldier on, do what you have to do and get through it. That is exactly what I did.  I cut down on the partying, changed jobs to one with less travel (well, almost) and got on with turning things around.

By the time I decided to give living in New Zealand a try, back in 2009, I was debt free, living with awesome mates and hitting the gym at least four times a week. I wasn’t running away from anything, my life was back on track and I could explore the world with a clear and focused mindset.  It is the experience above and my focused vision that has lead to where I am sitting today.  Ever since arriving in New Zealand, there has been situations which I’ve not been happy with and just not accepted that it should be that way. I’ve quit the corporate world because the ethos and ethics of the companies I was working for were wrong. There were social issues which didn’t seem to be addressed, so I started a charity to address them. And most importantly of all, I didn’t want to be alone anymore, so I signed up to an online dating agency and within three days, honestly it was just three day, I’d met the love of my life and she is now lying in the nursery with the second love of my life.

The taste of travelling…

May I just say a Happy New Year to you all, I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas and heres to you and yours having a fantastic 2014.

Now its been a while since I last put a few words together on this blog. For various reasons and mundane excuses, I’ve not felt all that inspired in the writing department. Alas, over the festive period, on the back of an amazing roadtrip around New Zealand with my wife, I began to think about what enjoyed most about travelling and I have to say, I think its the food.

Travelling on the roads on New Zealand you can experience so many delicious kinds of food, just by going from one side of the islands to the other. An area such as Hawkes Bay is reknowned for its fruit and wines, whilst only an hours drive to the Waikato and you’re in dairy country. I guess thats just one of the reasons why I’m so lucky to call this part of the world home these days.

When I recall memories of my travels before moving south from the UK, my recollections always come back to culinary delights. From eating crawfish for the first time in Jakarta, consuming platefuls of paealla on the streets of Barcelona, to eating homemade pork in a colleagues home in the middle of Slovakia.

The reason for my confession for the love of food, is because it has dawned on me that my wanderlust was fueled by my appetite for foreign cuisine rather than the love of travelling. Therefore this blog be changing direction somewhat, in fact, it’ll probably change course completely but hey whats life without a little bit of change.

Those who know me well enough know of my passion for food and will probably ask why i’ve not thought to write about food before now? Well sometimes it takes me a little longer to catch up with the rest of you, but i get there in the end haha.

So please be patient whilst I try and bring this blog up to speed with my new ideas and I look forward to sharing new thoughts with you soon.

A little taste of home…

On a cold Tuesday evening, with the rain pouring down, my dad and I would endeavour to withstand the onset of manflu and cheer on the boys at St.Andrews, the home of Birmingham City Football Club. The only saving grace of joining thousands (yes thousands) of other poor souls hoping for a win, was half time, where I’d join the queue at the refreshments stand and wait to get my hands on a piping hot cornish pasty. The delicious first bite would evaporate the chill from my bones, the taste of peppery goodness convincing dad and I that it would be good idea to sit in the cold and rain for another forty five minutes.

Its amazing how food can bring back such profound memories and also a bout of homesickness. Earlier this week I made a batch of cornish pasties and the above memory made me smile throughout the whole process of making these homely delights. I thought it only right that I should provide you with the recipe and hopefully in future you’ll be able to share such memories.

The Cornish Pasty

Ingredients

500g Chuck Steak
1 Swede diced into 1cm cubes
2 Tbsp Cornflour
1 Tbsp Mustard Powder
2 Medium Potatoes diced into 1cm cubes
1 Onion finely diced
2 Carrots diced into 1cm cubes (optional)
Ground Black Pepper lots
Ground Sea Salt
Pre Frozen Shortcrust Pastry
100g Butter
1 Egg

Instructions

Preheat your oven at 190c, 375f.

Cut up the steak into small bite size pieces, no bigger than 2cm. Place the steak in a bowl with the cornflour, mustard powder and plenty of black pepper and salt and stir until all the meat is covered in the flour mix.

Next chop up the swede, potato, onion and carrots. Place the vegetables into a separate bowl from the steak and mix it up, adding a little salt and pepper.

Roll out the shortcrust pasty (unless you have bought pre rolled pastry sheets) until it is 3-4mm thick. If the pastry is too thin it will be difficult to pull the pasty together. Once the pastry is rolled out, use a tea plate (or something similar around 20cm dia) and cut out circles from the pastry.

Take a circle of pastry and place a knob of butter in the middle. Now place a handful of vegetables and half a handful of meat in the centre of the pastry. Now brush pastry, from the edge to 2cm from the edge, all the way around with beaten egg (this will help to seal the pasty).

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Now comes the tricky part, assembling the pasty. Lift the bottom and top of the circle of pastry to meet each other above the meat and vegetables. Now whilst holding that with one hand, you need to crimp the top and bottome together like this

Now place your pasty (pasties) on a baking tray (I’ve learned that its best to put baking paper on your baking tray), and brush the pasty with egg, in order to get the golden brown finish.  Sprinkle the pasty with salt.

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Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.

These really are delicious and can be eaten either hot (ideally) or cold.

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Trying to a make a difference…

Head 2 Head Charity Walk

It is pretty easy to sit back and just let the world pass you by, acknowledging there are issues but assuming someone else will take care of them. New Zealand is a world away from where I grew up in Birmingham, England and pretty difficult to make comparisons. Alas, as stunning as this part of the world is, there are similar major social issues that aren’t being addressed by local or national government. So, I thought it was about time I did my bit to try and help, so the Head2Head Walk was born.

So what is the Head2Head Walk? Well last year I came up with the idea of starting a charity walk here in Auckland, New Zealand, to raise money for local communities. I was originally supposed to be taking part in the Oxfam Trail Walk, but through one reason or another, it didn’t happen. Both logistically and…

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A new adventure

On the 12th April 2013, I officially ceased employment within the corporate world and delivered on the promised which I had given my wife-to-be.

I had been quite unhappy, maybe even on the border of depressed, about the direction my career had taken since landing on the shores of New Zealand.  I had gone from a successful project manager full of confidence, passion and motivation to a shadow of this person, through being constantly undermined by management for my ideas, despite these ideas being founded on success.

In January of this year I made a promise to Anj, that if things didn’t improve, I would quit the corporate world before our wedding.  A month prior to our nuptials, I still found myself waking up and not wanting to make the journey to work.  After discussions with management and unfulfilled promises of improvement, I declared enough was enough and handed in my little note detailing my intentions to resign.

Since the age of sixteen when I first walked through the gates at Jaguar Cars Ltd., I have been employed for all but three weeks (which was when I first arrived in New Zealand).  It was somewhat unnerving to go from being employed for almost twenty years, to suddenly find myself without an employer and have no real plans to find one.  Alas, I had  no intentions of thinking about the next steps until I had enjoyed our big day and the following honeymoon.

With the help of a career coach, Louise Thompson and some books by Chris Guillebeau and Po Bronson, I began to realise that the next boss I worked for, would be yours truly.  I knew that I could never bring myself to step foot in another corporate office and have them dictate the way I worked, especially when those ways went against both my working and moral ethics.  To get back to the confident, passionate and motivated person that I once knew, I needed to take matters into my own hands.

It has taken a month or so to figure out what it is that I can do, to actually make a difference.  In the grand scheme of things, a month is a mere tick from old father time and it has been a valuable time spent tapping into the depths of my grey matter, being true to myself and not letting others influence the decision making process.  Of course having an amazing wife to support me through this development has been essential and I honestly think I would still be tied to a desk if it wasn’t for Mrs Dickson.

You may have read in my previous blog that I have already been doing what I can to help the local community through the Head2Head Walk.  About a fortnight ago at 2am, I awoke with an idea that will take this a step further.  There are fundamental issues within society which stem from social changes that have only really come about in the last couple of decades.  Within academic institutions, the corporate world and even our humble abodes, there are social rules which seem to have been forgotten, misplaced or conveniently swept under the carpet.  It’s these social rules which I hope to address and remind people in my new venture.

“Social Phoenix” is my new venture, with the vision to breath life into social awareness   and drag society out of the ashes into which it has fallen.  I look forward to sharing the progress of my venture with you 🙂

George…

When it comes to people, there are always differing perspectives, perceptions and opinions on what a person is like. The observations are based on our own individual personalities, ideals and experiences and the comparison of these with the people in question. I guess this is my caveat for the following portrayal of my grandfather. For whatever the thoughts of others, the man whom us grandkids were encouraged to call George, was in my eyes the epitome of an age gone by and one in which i wish the world had held on to for a wee while longer.

Looking back on the time growing up, with life split between two homes and the ongoing battle of parental dominance, there remained a constant, a rock in which to anchor from the turbulent seas of dysfunctional youth and that was my grandparents, Eadie and George. They lived in a flat (apartment) on the sixth floor of a council high rise. Tenants came and went within this towering community, alas if they lived in this block between the 1960s and 2000s they would have invariably known the Dickson’s. For over thirty years, my grandparents proudly lived in their small two bedroom flat. No other floor in the building had been polished and cleaned as much as that on floor six, with its mirror like sheen.

During weekend visits to see dad, more often than not we would jump on the bus to go visit dads parents. My sister, brother and I would race up the stairs of the building to try and beat dad going up in the lift (elevator) and on occasion we would win. The visits would always be the same routine of lemonade, Kit-Kat, talk about what we had been up to and then George would bring down the bowl which contained the twenty pence pieces he had collected for us kids, since our last visit. The fortune would be divided out between my sister, brother and I and then topped up with any change George just happened to have in his pocket.

Sometimes after we had said our thank you’s and goodbyes, we would follow George down to the Rose & Crown, which had been his local pub for as long as life had been on the sixth floor. Dad would have a pint, whilst it was pops all round for the kids, with an occasional sip of shandy. We would always sit outside, as children were not allowed in the pub, plus these were the days when smoking was not only allowed but pretty much required indoors, so it was as much for health reasons. I remember when I was very young that George smoked but for one reason or another he gave up the nasty habit before I was blowing out ten candles. The stain of the habit still remained on his fingers well into my teens, so I guess he would have got through quite a few cigarettes in his time.

Both the flat and the pub are where we would mostly see Nan and George. There were times when we would go see what George had growing in the local allotment where his plot was the envy of all around. Although my mum is a great gardener, I think my green fingered ways were passed on to me from George. If I remember rightly, he was chairman of the allotment and also a member of the local garden society. Those days of digging up potatoes, beetroot and other such healthy delights are what kept him strong well into his seventies. Life has a way of catching up with you when you stop such activities.

Whilst typing, I just recalled a habit which I picked up from this man and it’s the “George Visit”. Before I go on, I must make mention of Georges attire. He was old school and I mean in a very dapper way. Apart from when he was on the allotment, George would always be suited and booted with a tie and hat during his visits. Imagine your old hollywood black and white classics of the gentlemen all dressed in suits and hats and you’ll see George.

The George Visit was a regular trip which he would make every Sunday. He would visit his sister and then, regardless of whether we were at dads or mums, he would visit his grandkids. We were his only grandkids and he saw it as his duty to ensure we were doing OK. The visits would be short, anything between ten and twenty minutes, but this would be long enough to say hello, ask what we had been up too and then be on his way. Here was a man of stature and no nonsense but deep down he had a heart of gold. Once I grew up and moved away from home, I tried my best to make my own “George Visits” to my family, as it didn’t matter to me if I was the one always doing the visiting, making sure family were doing OK was what had been instilled in me.

As I grew, the visits to see nan and George became less frequent, but I would do my best to visit at least once a month. I would meet George in the pub and share a pint with the old fella. We would talk about how work was going down at Jaguar where I was employed, what girl I was seeing at the time and how the family were doing. I became the conduit between my siblings and my grandparents. For whatever reason, they didn’t see my grandparents as I often as I did, so news of their lives had to come from somewhere. We would sit for as long as took to down a couple of pints, before we would walk up to the flat to catch up with nan.

Regardless of what life bought on during my teens and twenties, my first port of call was my grandparents. When I left home rather quickly for the first time, it was their door I knocked on. Upon admitting defeat to suffocating debts, they were the ones I confessed my ridiculous spending. When heartbroken and in need of a cup of tea, the kettle was on before I even sat down. And it wasn’t always bad news I went to them with, they would always be top of the list when I was calling around family with good news. After receiving my first ever wage, it was George who I bought a well earned pint.

I’m not sure if it’s ignorance or stupidity, but for some reason I thought this support would always be there. An idiotic notion, regardless of how old I was, my grandparents had my back for eternity. Well life just isn’t like that, old father time rests for no man. The day came when George retired from work, well into his seventies I might add. Once he stopped working, everything else seemed to stop working. Years of ill health followed retirement; long periods in hospital, brief glimpses of recovery before he finally admitted defeat and moved into a nursing home.

I visited George in this morgue of a rest home not long after he moved in. Sitting in a chair looking out the window, he was physically half the man he used to be. He sat wearing pyjamas and an old cardigan, with at least a week of stubble covering a face which I barely recognised. He turned and looked at me, at first not recognising his own grandson before the memory kicked in and a smile cracked his dry lips. The first thing he asked was how I was, as he always had and I had no words to reply with, all I could do was bend down and give the old boy a much needed hug, whilst a tear escaped my eye. He told me off for the tear and to sit down down and tell him what I had been up too.

I refused to see George like this, so I tried to return the dignity which I knew somewhere within him he was trying desperately to hold on to and somehow made him agree to me giving him a shave. In hindsight, this act probably unhinged his grip of that dignity but he still said thank you. It was the one and only time I did this for him, as at the end of the visit, he asked me not to visit him again. I understood his reasons but I couldn’t make the promise that this would be the last visit. I let a month or so pass by before going back, trying my best to keep to Georges wishes. It was impossible to enter this place alone from then on, so I’d always visit with dad.

The day eventually came when I received the call from my nan. For a few seconds all I heard were tears and then “he’s gone”.

Over ten years have passed since that call and still I struggle to write the above, The man I am today is in part due to the man I depended on as I became a man and for this I will be forever thankful.

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George is the fella at the end of the left…