If Not Now…When?

Man, May 2017 was tough.

It felt like one of those months that everything went wrong. A few things that were threatening to happen happened. It’s vague-booking at the finest, I’m aware, but the fact my phone being stolen after giving a talk at MWUG was kind of the straw that broke the camels back. Would I call it depression? Of course not. It’s unfair to call it such as seeing how people with serious mental illness are affected. But I’m not going to lie – I felt May 2017 and the sheer coincidences were out to get me. It was not fun, and kinda ruined 2017 for me.

It took me months, months to get back to some sense of normality. A weekend in Cologne on my first Deutschegraps Wochenende with PROGRESS & wXw (that saw my favourite match of 2017) that was immediately followed a few fun days in Manchester finally put a smile back on my face, and I returned in July 2017, and I felt happy. Things began to look up – I lost a bit of weight, I was doing loads and I was truly happy.

But once again the nagging feelings crept in. Something wasn’t right. I’m not sure what it was but it felt strange. Like a stagnation feeling, more than anything else. Seeing people grow and improve and do so much with their lives – whilst nice – made me reflect on what I was doing. The honest answer? Nothing. Sure I was doing stuff, but it wasn’t big, scary stuff. I felt like if my life was an RPG I was dicking about with the side-quests. October came and I was praying for December. Imagine clock watching, but calendar watching. It wasn’t healthy. So one of my new year’s resolutions (beyond one that I share on Instagram) was to change something, so that 31st December 2018 was a lot happier for me than 31st December 2017.

And 31st December 2017 I spent playing video games in Arcade Club in Bury, it was a lot of fun.

January came around. Happy New Year & all that. Right! Let’s attack the year. I know! I’ll look at my goals – let’s find my own place! Get on the property ladder! Live the British dream! I may not have anybody to share it with, but dammit I can still set up my Xbox and not whinge when somebody doesn’t empty to the dishwasher. I set up a few viewings for flats in Manchester. And then I realised half way through a viewing of a dingy place in Old Trafford, when neither me nor the estate agent particularly wanted to be there.

I’m not sure it was what I wanted.

I looked at what I could change on my life, so the next thing was a job. I love and care about the FireCask team to bits, don’t get me wrong, but a sexy job came up to work on a WordPress product (something I’ve a lot of interest in). It was remote work for a good company with industry leading names, but after sailing through the first interview, I looked again.

I’m not sure it was what I wanted.

I rang my brother, and I must have spoken to him about an hour. He’s an accountant, you see. He looks at things analytically. The job was with a French based company – paying in Euros, and assuming I smashed it and collected every bonus and Brexit was a total disaster, it still would be a sizeable pay cut.

But – he said – what if I didn’t smash it? What if Brexit isn’t a total disaster?

Difficult to imagine the latter, I know.

In the end, the analytical brother disappeared and the psychiatrical brother emerged. He laid out what I’ve been doing and what would make me happy. I was single, I was living in a rented accommodation, I had a decent job and travelled a bit. A solid 6/10 on the happiness scale but something wasn’t right. In the end I talked about a dream I’ve had since about the age of 18.

The dream of going freelance.

It’s not a freelance dream of sipping Margaritas on the beach, but to put to bed a working class guilt of having slightly longer lunch breaks, getting an earlier train to head back to see mum & dad, and opening my laptops on strange days in strange countries to graft, affording me an extra few days exploring. I’m not sure if any of these are actually possible, or it’s just a pipe dream, but I’d like to try, at least one day.

He then hit me with four words, that pretty much set the tone of this year up to this point.

“If not now, when?”.

Truth is, I’m not in a better position to give it a try. I’ve a bit of savings, I’ve a good network of contacts, I’ve no mortgage, no debt and no commitments. Sure it’s a risk, but it seems like a sensible risk. And if it doesn’t work for whatever reason – I know I can say “At least I tried”.

So, now you know the backstory, and as I sit writing this in an airport in Frankfurt, after seeing PROGRESS Wrestling & wXw rock the Batchkapp in a weird kinda full circle, allow me to introduce you to my Freelance face – Dwi’n Rhys. Dwi’n Rhys (pronounced “Dween Rhys” – Welsh for “I am Rhys”…clever eh?) is a WordPress freelance business, where I concentrate solely on making WordPress work. And trust me, in my 6 years commercial experience, I’ve seen many installations where WordPress doesn’t work. Winwar Media is still going – if I have the pleasure of working with you – these will be where the invoices come from, just it’s SEO is abysmal for it’s branded term thanks to a popular Windows based file archiver. Winwar will focus on plugins and affiliate sites, Dwi’n Rhys will be where you come to if you want your WordPress site secure, speedy and SEO friendly. To be honest are though if you drop a contact form on any site of mine I’ll probably triage it into the right place.

Anyway, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for a chat and a brew. I’m happy to meet within the Manchester & the North West pretty much straight away, North Wales fairly sharpish and elsewhere area pretty much with a bit of notice.

So to answer the question I posed at the beginning of the year: when…is now.

What’s In The Bag? 2018 Edition

So, I’ve began thinking of ideas for blog posts so that at least I’m writing 2 or 3 times a year rather than once or twice every 2 years. An example of a blog post I thought that I quite like is “What’s In The Bag?” posts I’ve seen doing the round. It’s interesting to see how people’s bags and rucksacks develop over time, so I thought I’d do mine. Here’s my bag, and what’s currently in it – as well as it numbered so you can easily follow below. Or I think easy to follow – my graphics skills aren’t the best!

  1. Wiwa OnePack – This was a fairly ill advised kickstarter, but it came through and it’s decent. A roomy backback which is easy to carry and two major compartments, one fairly roomy main backpack designed for 2 or 3 night stays (I will disagree mind), and a “work” area for laptops and notebooks. It is an okay backpack, slightly soured by how long it took, but it’s okay.
  2. 2015 Macbook Pro – Love, love, love this machine! Absolute beast and runs along quite nicely. Still only 3 years old and whilst I covered it with stickers it’s still chugging along without any problems. I wish the hard drive was bigger though. Charger is beginning to get the same issue all chargers for the Mac seem to suffer.
  3. World Civilization Laptop Sleeve – Because I’m forever dreaming of going away and this is a useful laptop sleeve.
  4. PROGRESS Wrestling Tote Bag – always need to be representing my fellow ultras.
  5. 7dayshop Aero Freedom Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones – My hearing is poor, and I like the Noise Cancelling aspect. It’s pretty decent in noise cancelling, compared to earphones.
  6. Clas Ohlson USB Double Charging Plug & EU Plug Adapter – after a trip to Italy where I forgot all my plugs and adapters, I’ve made a reason to always carry these two items in my bag, so I’m not without power.
  7. Puridea Phone Power Bank – A decent sized (10000mAh) charger. It’s slightly too big for my liking, but it can fit in my bag and not take up too much room.
  8. Small Notebooks – Used for small note taking, such as – for example – when I’m giving a talk (I used one for my WP Leeds talk recently).
  9. Nifty Kitchen Bento Box – Love this little Bento Box! I’d highly recommend anybody to get a Bento Box. I cook for 2 and now eat a delicious lunch the next day. It’s expensive for a lunchbox, but it’s save me more money in return.
  10. WordCamp Manchester 2015 Tote Bag – as you can never have enough tote bags, this was from WordCamp Manchester 2015, one I helped organise.
  11. Business Cards Holders – Holding business cards for Winwar Media as well as stickers for Winwar & WP Email Capture.
  12. LFC Notebook – Used for taking meeting notes, more long form writing that I need to do occasionally.
  13. Intelligent Change Productivity Planner – I’ve started using this to plan my days. It’s pretty good but I’m still getting the hang of it. Will let you know how it goes but it’s working with my Pomodoro technique, though one task every day may just be “Small Work jobs on my Remember The Milk list”
  14. (Above 12) Belkin Boost Up Wireless Charger – I thought this was a fad, as was the Treasure Truck, but I bought this on The Amazon Treasure Truck and it was a good purchase. Just makes my life easier. Can be temperamental at times though.
  15. (Above 13) Small Tin full of USB Cables & Bits and Bobs – I bought the tin in Dublin, as on my flight to Dublin I broke my USB cable, leaving me in trouble for a week stay there. This keeps the cables safe and secure. This does contain the Volutz Charging USB Cables, which are the best USB cables I’ve ever owned, so tough!

Anyway, that’s what’s in my bag, what’s in yours? Leave them in the comments!

Parties And Belgrade

“How have you enjoyed your stay here? Well I hope you come back again, but if not, I do hope you come back to Belgrade. You are always welcome here.”

Those were the parting words of the receptionist of Hotel Inn Belgrade as I left after a week in the Serbian capital. It felt like it summed up my stay in the Serbian capital. People are really friendly here. Like bordering on the “Why are you being so nice?” friendly. It was bordering on the unnerving and it was for the first day, but eventually you find a city full of warm, hospitible people who want to sell their city to you so you tell everybody about them.

Mission, accomplished.

I arrived early afternoon, and then immediately I went on a Belgrade Walking Tour, which was fascinating as well as slightly drunken due to the spirit given towards the end of the tour (thanks Godaddy for sponsoring!). After a bit of food (unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the place I attended) the night was capped off at the absolutely fabulous Samo Pivo, a craft beer bar located in an underpass. This was a real gem of a place and I was sad I only went once during my time in Belgrade. From the underpass you are lead to an outside terrace with a fascinating view of the city.

The second day I spent looking through the Nikola Tesla Museum as well as The Serbian National Bank, both fun little distractions and diversions. The evening was eventually resulted in food at Ambar, with their “All you can eat for 2990 Dinar” (about £20), we had a great filling meal that went on for hours, with many beers. Top. Notch. I cannot remember what it was, but there was an absolutely delicious hazelnut butter that was to die for. I cannot remember anything else about it, but it was superb, as was much of the food there.

The next day saw the kick off of the World Cup, and I ended up in another cracking bar – Berlin Monroe. Located off a car park in the old town, this craft beer bar has a great staff, friendly service and a superb selection of Serbian craft beers. No food is served, but there’s a pizza place nearby that does massive pizzas for not much money.

The rest of the holiday was spent mainly at the aforementioned WordCamp Europe, which you can read more about that if you so desire here. But here you are after pictures aren’t you? Here’s some of my top snaps from the trip.

Race to 100 err…103 grounds complete

Bloody England.

And Bloody Wales.

And Bloody Worcester City.

So I have been embarking on a trip to see as many football teams play in as many stadiums as possible. I had hoped to reach 100 by the end of the season, and I did! I thought I’d did it on a Tuesday in mid April when I went through the turnstiles at Deepdale (home of Preston North End), ticking off my 100th ground.

Or so I thought.

Turns out, like all brilliant minds do every now and again, I had miscalculated. I had seen 100 different teams playing at various stadiums. However, I’d actually ticked off a fair few already.

Let me explain using my beloved Wales.

Ask me if I seen Wales play at home, then I would say “Yes”. I had. However I’d seen them play in two different venues that they call “Home”: The Millenium Stadium & Cardiff City Stadium. Same applies to England (Old Trafford & Wembley) and Worcester City (St George’s Lane & Aggborough). Like Phileas Fogg, I’d well and truly screwed up my calculations and actually achieved more than I thought.

So in actual fact, my 100th ground – Ramsbottom United vs Colwyn Bay – was completed on a cold Spring evening in Late March, making Preston, Blackpool, and my trip to bloody Genoa rather redundant.

Oh well.

All in all, I feel a weird sense of pride with my achievement. It’s means nothing, didn’t make me healthier, didn’t raise money for a charity or even do something for somebody. It was selfish, it was selfish bloody minded stubbornness for something that impressed only me and a few other people. I don’t think I’d even put it on my Tinder bio.

But I don’t care, as for this journey, there has been a weird solace for me within a WhatsApp group. Two of my friends from university heard about the challenge and decided to go for their own challenge related to it. One of which was to hit 100, another was to hit 50. If absolutely nothing else, as I hurtle to my mid 30’s, I’m glad that I’ve managed to reclaim and spend some quality time with two great friends. That has been what has made the last 6 or so month’s special.

I’ve not decided if I’m continuing to 200, or 250, or whatever. This isn’t swimming: the next 100 will probably be harder, but I’ve paired with one of my friends and we’ve started a little instagram account for groundhopping. You can see it here at @ystbah. Please give us a follow!

Anyway, now onto some stats!

  • Most Northerly ground – Firhill, Glasgow (Partick Thistle)
  • Most Easterly & Southerly ground – GSP Stadium, Nicosia (Cyprus)
  • Most Westerly ground – Giants Stadium, New York (New York Red Bulls)
  • I’ve watched football matches in 13 different countries: Andorra, Belgium, Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, United States and Wales.
  • I’ve watched football at 59% of the teams in the Evostik Divison 1 North, my most populous league.
  • I’ve seen football played in 23 competitions: European Championships, World Cup Qualifications, European Championship Qualifications, Champions League, Europa League, Premier League, Championship, League 1, League 2, Conference North, Evostik Premiership, Evostik Division 1 North, Evostik Division 1 South, North West Counties Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, FA Trophy, League of Wales, Cymru Alliance, League of Ireland, Scottish Premiership, Bundesliga & Serie A.

Anyway, here’s a map!

Anyway, if you have any questions or anything, I’m opening the comments up to an unofficial AMA, if you have any questions for my escapades, leave them in the comments!

The Genova Project

As the developer of a popular email list building plugin for WordPress, I usually spout how email marketing works really well, it was just before Christmas that I experienced it first hand.

I was feeling a bit down before Christmas. I had used up all my holiday and it was wet, cold and miserable. An easyjet email said "We're now flying from Manchester to Genoa in late March". "Au contraire!", I said, "am flying from Manchester to Genoa in late March". Bish bash bosh, done. I've something to look forward to, and come late March (last week), I was ready for my trip to Genoa. Much, much needed.

I arrived in Genoa late on Thursday on a comfortable flight, and whilst I arrived successfully, I had a problem with the ticket machine. First tip: The ticket machine didn't take €20 notes and the cash machine only dispenses in €20 notes. I ended up changing the €6 bus to the centre to a €40 taxi unfortunately, and I only realised after getting into the taxi I that there was a shop there, d'oh! I could have changed €20 for a €1 bottle of water and change for the bus. Ah well. Live and learn.

Rest of the short break was incredible though, and my thoughts (obviously) quickly turned to food. I ended up going to the wonderful Pasta Street, a reasonably priced eatery with a Carbonara to die for. After deliberately getting lost on the way back to the hotel and finding a wine bar for a nightcap I had a relatively early night.

I'm so glad I had an early night as on my second day I was off to Portofino, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's an hour or so away by train or 20 minutes by boat….I didn't have a boat. Leaving early was a great idea as I arrived just before lunch, and the clouds were beginning to turn a deep dark grey. I managed to avoid the weather though and walked to the lighthouse and back. My only regret? I wish I done it 10 years ago, when I still lived in Wales and hill walks were a normal occurrance.

Lunch was Pasta and Pesto (one of the Genovan specialities, along with Foccaccia) at Ristorante da I Gemelli di Paolo & Matteo Portofino. Food was okay but the view more than made up for it, overlooking the touristy harbour and the waves cooly rocking the shore.

After an ice cream and souvenir shopping I headed to Santa Margherita Ligure, a larger port and fishing town about 15 minutes away. I headed there for a leisurely stroll along the promenade (the rain was still holding out but threatening), and a cheeky Peroni. It was a pretty place but I wouldn't drive here – the bus from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino was borderline lethal, and I apologised to a small lass who's head met my shoulder after a hard brake.

The evening out was spent having a decent meal (surprise surprise) before relaxing in a funky little dive bar called Alla Goccia Chupiteria. It wasn't a late one, as my Saturday was huge.

Saturday was meant to be a day spent worshipping the Italian religion of football, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. My original plan was to go to the Genoa Football Museum, Genova vs SPAL in Serie A, and then Juventus vs Milan on the telly box. Unfortunately, the Genoa Football Museum was shut. Instead I consoled myself by going to Galeone Neptune – which is a huge Galleon Pirate Ship (replica) used on films. I had a great time, even if Trip Advisor says it's not worth it. I feel it is probably my love for Sea of Thieves which what appealed to me, but I had a great hour or so dicking about on the boat like I was a child again.

I then went to eat in Eataly, which was a decent group of restaurants located on the harbour. I had Clam Spaghetti which was amazing, and then headed to Genoa vs SPAL for the football – which you can read about here on my football instagram account – You're Supposed to Be At Home. Give it a follow!

The evening was spent trying to find somewhere that showed the Juventus/AC Milan game, but I was surprised very few bars had TV's with football on. It was strange. Instead I ended up at the wonderful 28 Erbe, chatting to the locals, people watching, having a few beers and ruing the fact I found my favourite bar on the last day of my holiday.

The final day was spent back in Eataly having some more gorgeous fish, as well as spending a short while walking around the pretty Palazzi dei Rolli, before getting a flight back home.

So what of Genoa then? Well, I loved the food and drink, I don't think I ate a bad meal in 3 days. I wish I had one more day to visit – 4 days I feel is enough to see all the wonderful city had to offer, and I wish I had been a bit quicker on the uptake of various attractions such as the massive aquarium. I also now fly up stairs and hills after dealing with the hilly nature of the city for a few days, but I had a great time. I was on the first flight to the city from Manchester, but if you're on one of the later ones – do it.