What I do

I was recently in conversation with an acquaintance and they raised the subject of a new TV show that they were excited about. They were astounded that I had never heard of it, let alone watched it. I explained that I hardly watch TV – a few hours a month perhaps. They asked me: “What do you do with all your free time?”

That was a good question, which made me stand back and consider exactly how I do spend my time …

In a few weeks, it will be the tenth anniversary of the death of Linda, my late wife. She had been sick for two years, which was an upheaval to all our lives, but her death changed the course of my life, and that of my daughters, irrevocably. I have to say that, in most respects, life has been very kind to me over the last decade. It is nearly nine years since I met Libby, my current wife. It is being with her that has characterized most aspects of my way of life today.

When we were first together, Libby and I lived about an hour’s drive apart. That was manageable, but eventually I decided to move to Malvern, the town where she lived. The plan was to buy a house and see how things worked out. Clearly it worked out well, as were married 2 years later and our 4th anniversary is coming up soon. I did not have strong ties with my previous home town – a few friends with whom I stay in touch. My challenge was to build a life in this new place. An easy option would have been to take advantage of Libby’s wide circle of friends. I have done that to some extent, but I was determined to build my own network. This was for two reasons. First, it just made sense as such an approach would enrich both our lives. But there was always the possibility that things would not work out with Libby, in which case eggs and baskets come to mind.

Building a personal network in a new place is not really a matter of starting from scratch. For me, it was a matter of concentrating on my various interests and building on those. This takes time and is why I do not watch much TV. Here is an outline of some of my interests and activities:

I have been keen on photography for many years. Apart from taking pictures, I belong to the local camera club, which is thriving. I am on the committee, which is a great way to make connections. I also visit other clubs to judge competitions or present a talk. Apart from being fun to do – meeting people and seeing pictures – I make a fair amount of money for a charity that I have selected. Just lately I have been working on my submission to gain a photographic qualification from the Royal Photographic Society. Hopefully, at some point, I will be able to put “ARPS” after my name.

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For most of my life, reading [and writing] have been a source of enjoyment. This is particularly true when traveling, but I try to make time for reading when I am at home. With this in mind, I started a small book club. We meet at my home each month and enjoy discussing the latest book. We have an inclusive attitude and never choose the very newest publications, as they tend to be expensive. We aim to select books that may be obtained from the library and/or cheaply second hand. I observed that book clubs are dominated by women and I thought that I would try to even up the sexes, but, so far, I have failed and men are in a minority.

I am definitely a foodie and enjoy cooking – preferably when I have a number of people to feed. One of the criteria for selecting a house in Malvern was that it should have a large enough kitchen to accommodate table that could seat at least 8. I have enjoyed getting to know some of the local shops and, for example, I always enjoy visiting the butcher’s shop instead of getting the pre-packed stuff in the supermarket. We participate in a very informal discussion group, where we meet in one another’s houses every few weeks – another chance to cook and make new friends.

Along with food, I have always enjoyed wine. I have been a member of The Wine Society for more than 30 years. This is a co-operative that was founded in 1874, but has really kept up with the times. They offer great value, quality and service. I recently joined the Greater Malvern Wine Society and have attended a few meetings/tastings – more network building. I enjoy beer too and like to support the local brewery, which is about half a mile from my house. I also bought some shares in BrewDog not long ago.

Live performances of almost any variety interest me. So we often go to the theater. Malvern has a wonderful facility, which includes three theaters, a cinema, bars and a restaurant. We spend a lot time there and see a very wide range of material – some popular, others more “highbrow”. If we want even more culture, the epicenter of anything to do with Shakespeare is Stratford-upon-Avon, which is only about an hour’s drive away. I also enjoy music and Libby and I have a wide taste, resulting in our owning many hundreds of CDs. Nowadays, we listen to that music, along with Spotify, radio etc., using our wonderful Sonos system. Live music is also a great pleasure and Malvern and surrounding areas provide numerous opportunities to see performances. There is a jazz club that takes place every two weeks a short walk from our home. We stumbled across this by accident, as they had no Internet presence at all. I have helped them by setting up a simple website. Getting involved is what I do – more networking. I have a long term ambition to learn an instrument. That is something I must progress soon [when I have time!].

It was about 3 years ago that I decided to learn to swim. I had been nervous of the water and wanted to put that behind me. Finding a good one-to-one teacher was the answer. I needed a place to practice and the local spa had a pool, so I joined and fell into the habit of going there at the start of the day. There were two unintended, but good, consequences of this move. First, I start my day early instead of just lazily staying in bed too long – I have a reason to get up. What I did not expect was the social benefit that came from getting to know a bunch of other early morning spa users. I also located another private pool, that I use a couple of days each week. As I do not like to swim alone, going there is a chance to spend time with one of my new-found friends.

Some time ago, I heard about the Repair Café from a couple of [otherwise unconnected] friends. This sounded like fun and I was soon a regular participant. Recently I have been involved with a program to support the set-up of other Repair Cafés in neighboring towns. Another networking opportunity.

I was looking at how I might repay society a bit for my good fortune in my career and came across the STEM Ambassador program and signed up. I only participate once in a while, but this is an activity that I would like to expand, as/when time permits.

Dabbling in genealogy is something that I have found interesting. This is very much work in progress. I have subscribed to ancestry.com and done some work on my family tree. Again, something to expand when I have time.

Because, over the years, I have done a lot of traveling with my work, it might be expected that I would be unenthusiastic to sign up for more in my free time. I do, indeed, like spending time at home and in my local area. I live in a beautiful part of the world, so why would I want to go elsewhere? However, I enjoy taking vacations or short breaks away. There is a gentle tension between Libby and I on this topic. There are broadly two approaches to a vacation: go somewhere new and exciting or go somewhere familiar so that you can relax straight away. We both agree that a balance between the two is ideal, but differ slightly on the proportions. We compromise.

So, there is a potted summary of my lifestyle and an explanation of why I watch so little TV. It makes me wonder how I fit in a full time job …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2016/05/19/what-i-do/